Robb Pratt

What is your name and your current occupation?
I’m Robb Pratt, story artist.

What are some of the crazier jobs you had before getting into animation?
For years I made stained glass windows in a little mom and pop shop in Studio City. There were actually some cool moments on that job. I got to meet Julian Lennon when I was installing some windows in his house! I’m a HUGE Beatles fan, so that was something that I’ll never forget! I also got to work for Erik Estrada, and Steven Adler, the drummer for Guns N Roses and future reality show star! What are some of your favorite projects you’re proud to have been a part of? I was very fortunate to be an animator for Walt Disney Feature Animation on every traditionally animated film AFTER “The Lion King”! I got to work directly with Bruce Smith, animating Kerchak in “Tarzan”, and John Pomeroy, animating to Michael J. Fox’s voice for “Atlantis”. After traditional animation faded out out Disney, I was able to work for Eric Goldberg on “Looney Tunes: Back In Action”. I actually got to animate Bugs Bunny saying his iconic “What’s up, doc?” line!

How did you become interested in animation?
Funny… speaking of Bugs Bunny, it was the Warner Bros. shorts that made me want to be an animator! I love the artform of shorts: get in, get a few laughs, then get out before you’ve warn out your welcome! I also was WAY into the Fliescher Popeye shorts. I just recently rediscovered them with my son who loves them as well, and man, do they stand up! Just amazing work, and very “animator-ly” humor! Clever visual gags. Even as a youngster, I figured that the classic “Tom and Jerry” shorts were the best animated, so I enjoyed those immensely as well. I knew that I wasn’t simply intrigued with drawing, but fascinated with the whole multi-media concept of a moving drawing, synced to sound, art directed with color and scored. I’m an adult now, and don’t believe in magic any more, so the closest thing to it for me is a drawing that is moving and is alive.
Where are you from and how did you get into the animation business?
I was born and raised in North Hollywood, California, just a few short miles from the Walt Disney Studio. Whenever my family and I passed the studio when I was a kid, I would dream that I would someday work there. Immediately after high school, I took almost all of the classes that the Cartoonists’ Union was offering. When the big animation renaissance happened in the nineties, Disney was hiring. I took an inbetween test and got hired eight months later to work on “Pocahontas”. I grew up very poor, and had a great respect for learning, so I took advantage of the situation and practically lived at the studio, staying all hours of the night. After I had finished my day’s work, I’d stay and work on personal animation tests and show the talented group I was now exposed to for their feedback.
What’s a typical day like for you with regards to your job?
As a story artist, it’s my job to visualize the script, so my day begins with reading my assignment repeatedly to really get a sense of what my scene is communicating. Once I’m confident that I have an understanding of what the scene is saying, I make small thumbnail sketches of the moments that are clearest in my mind. I’ll run these by my director to see if I’m close to what his vision is for the sequence. From there, I’ll refine the drawings and add poses to flesh the storyboard out. Once in a while, I’ll be in on a story meeting, where I get to see other story artists pitch their boards, and I love that.

What part of your job do you like best? Why?
I enjoy every phase of my job, but I’d have to say that my favorite part is the collaborative process. I’ve spent so much of my life being the school nerd that was into drawing cartoons, that I’m so happy to be surrounded by like-minded artists. Bouncing ideas off collegues, discussing story, and learning keep me engaged in a way that makes me happy and fullfilled.

What part of your job do you like least? Why?
There are times when collaboration, as much as I love it, can be comprimising. It’s such a rush when it leads to better art, which is the case most of the time, but in the instances where it leads to the softening of ideas, it can be frustrating. Deadlines are an obvious motivator to get things done, but there are moments when I wish I had more time to fully realize my ideas, instead of having to fall back on my usual bag of tricks just to get an assignment turned in on time.

What is the most difficult part for you about being in the business?
I think because of my upbringing, I truly appreciate doing this for a living – it’s a dream job for me. I truly love the animated artform, so it’s difficult to think of anything difficult about it. I guess it’s frustrating when you find yourself in a situation where you’re working with someone that doesn’t share that same passion.

What kind of technology do you work with on a daily basis?
Well, everything in the biz is on computers nowadays! I draw on a Cintiq tablet, using Photoshop. I’m very old school in a lot of ways: I love old architecture, old music, old movies and old cars, so when it came time to NOT draw on paper anymore, I initally rejected it. Several years ago, I bought a Cintiq becaucse I saw that the industry was going that way and figured that I better get on board. It sat in it’s box for three weeks before I opened it. One night, my wife was out, so I thought I’d set it up and try it out for fifteen minutes. THREE HOURS LATER it was like falling in love all over again!!! Now I do almost all of my drawing digitally, except for character animation. There’s just no digital answer to flipping your drawings and scratching away, flipping and scratching.

In your travels, have you had any brushes with animation greatness?
Wow, I sure have! Earlier I mentioned Bruce Smith, John Pomeroy and Eric Goldberg – true animation legends! In addition to them, I’ve had the fortune to work with Mark Henn, Ruben Aquino, Randy Haycock and Russ Edmonds. Recently I’ve been in story meetings with John Lasseter, and on a few occassions got to hang out with Roy Disney! Sometimes I still get star-struck thinking about it, although I try to keep my cool and try to act like I belong when I see Bruce, whom I’m working with again!

Describe a tough situation you had in life. Any side projects you’re working on you’d like to share details of?
Not to try to sound like a soap opera or anything, but my childhood wasn’t always easy. I was raised by a single mom that suffered from mental illness. She was always medicated and couldn’t work, so we lived in poverty. The thing I took from that situation is to not to let any of that crap make you fail to live up to your potential. I’ve seen friends and family members use it as an excuse to give up on their lives, but that’s not how I want to live. I’ve got stuff I want to do and I’m not letting anything from the past stop me from doing it! I like to think that it’s given me a very strong work ethic.

Any side projects that you’d like to share the details of? 
I do have side projects that I’m very excited about! I’m an avid Superman fan, and traditionally animated a one minute, old school Superman piece to old serial music called “Superman Classic”. I posted it on YouTube last year and got a lot of attention for it! All the major trades wrote about it, and I even got to go on the Howard Stern channel on Sirius Satellite Radio to talk about it! I had such a great time making it, that I’ve just completed a new one! I’ll be premiering it online late tonight (July 1, 2012), so please check it out and rate it if you like it!

Is there any advice you can give for an aspiring animation student or artist trying to break into the business?
The only way you’re going to make it in this business is if you really LOVE it. Sometimes the biz is extremely tough, but remember that that only weeds out the people that don’t want it bad enough. If you really want to do this, you’ve got to be ALL IN.

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  1. Great interview! Very inspiring, Rob.

  2. Way to go, Rob! Keeping animating!

  3. Fantastic stuff Robb! I can’t believe how much work went into those Superman shorts of yours! Really terrific!

  4. Pingback: Robb Pratt does it again with 2D Flash Gordon tribute - Animation Insider

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