What is your name and your current occupation?
My name is Cale Atkinson and my current full time job is Art Director for RocketSnail Games. I also do contract work in animation and children’s illustrations.
What are some of the crazier jobs you had before getting into animation?
Before I really decided to go into the job direction of animation I was madly into film and making movies. One job I had for a little while was ‘Wedding Videographer’, filming high-end weddings around Vancouver. Interesting times of chasing limos to find photo shoot locations, staying awake during extra long ceremonies, and having my camera eat the tape in the middle of a wedding :O !
What are some of your favorite projects you’re proud to have been a part of?
Honestly in one way or another I’m proud of everything I’ve been apart of. I’m super proud of all the things we are currently working on at RocketSnail Games. The children’s books I’ve been able to illustrate are also something I’m always really excited to be involved in.
How did you become interested in animation?
Always a hard question, as I can’t remember not being interested in animation. As a kid I was crazy about drawing and loved getting any books about cartooning, animation, and comic strips. I can’t say I did a lot of animation practice as a kid (probably due to the amount of work and time it takes) butnevertheless I was crazy about seeing/reading how people did it. I clearly remember having this old box of ‘tracing paper’ as a young kid and would pull it out from time to time to think about how I would use it to make a cartoon. Animation always seemed so magical and definitely became a passion of mine, regardless if I was doing it.
Where are you from and how did you get into the animation business?
I’m from the West Coast in Vancouver, Canada. Back when I was doing odd jobs in film I reached a point where I felt there was a fork in the road regarding what I wanted to do as a ‘job’. Should I pursue random jobs in film (doing weddings, corporate shoots etc) hoping to eventually land a more exciting job in the industry, OR should I pursue that under-lining passion I’ve always had for animation and attempt to up my skills/build a portfolio to apply. It wasn’t the hardest decision, animation won by a longshot. For the next 5 months I did my own version of schooling. Determined on developing my artistic skills I did nothing but practice, absorb art blogs/books/artists online and practice more. As I began getting a bit better I started posting on forums and my own blog to get any feedback. I also emailed numerous artists I admired to get any crits/words of wisdom. Dan Schoening (Known as Dapper Dan online) was one of these artists and graciously answered all my random industry questions as well as gave me many crits on my work. This back and forth soon turned into a nice friendship and once I finished my portfolio he happily took a copy to the boss of the company he was working for. I applied to several other studios as well but in the end got a quick job offer from the company Dan was at. Without hesitation I excitedly moved out to Victoria Canada to work at my first job in the industry doing designs, animation, backgrounds and more for children’s games.
What’s a typical day like for you with regards to your job?
My typical day at work usually starts with a tasty cup of coffee. I’m definitely more of a night owl so caffeine in the morning is priority number 1! Once I get settled in it’s a matter of looking over what tasks are needing to get done for the week. My job ranges a lot from; doing concepts, designs, character/background paintings, critiques/opinions on work coming in, working on pitch packages for upcoming projects, and more. Pending what is being worked on that week, my day revolves around said tasks. One thing that is certain to happen on any given day is a nerf gun battle! Our office can be a dangerous place for any poor unsuspecting visitors 😀
What part of your job do you like best? Why?
I love the visual development/concept phase. It’s always so fun exploring new possibilities , fresh untamed ideas and brainstorming exciting plans with my colleagues! It’s also pretty great seeing some of these ideas take shape down the road and actually develop beyond what you imagined.
What part of your job do you like least? Why?
I can’t think of anything I would necessarily complain about with my current job. I think certain aspects in the process of creating my illustrations can get a little tedious (ie.laying down the flat colors on a busy illustration). Overall though it’s all pretty good times!
What kind of technology do you work with on a daily basis?
Program wise at work it is pretty much Photoshop 99.9% of the time, maybe a little Flash here and there. At home I also use Photoshop the majority of time, but do also use Flash and AfterEffects. I also use a Cintiq both at home and work. I have been known to hug my Cintiq from time to time.
What is the most difficult part for you about being in the business?
For me the hardest part of this business is the balance of quality vs. speed/quantity. I feel very lucky in the job I currently have and definitely appreciate it in seeing how many other studios out there (whether game or animation) work their employees tirelessly for a pile of subpar products. I also find there is still many a people/employers/studios that don’t want to pay artists what they are worth.
In your travels, have you had any brushes with animation greatness?
Oh yes! Had the opportunity to chat with the great animation masters Andreas Deja and Bruce Smith on a couple occasions. Both of which are incredibly nice and so very passionate about animation! Inspiration galore! I also had the chance to meet and talk with the Headless Productions guys a couple CTNs ago. I find their work really amazing and never ceases to inspire me when I need a hit!
Describe a tough situation you had in life.
I think back before I got into animation as a job there was a bit of a tough spot in my life figuring out what I really wanted to do as a ‘career’. I’m a pretty self-motivated and determined individual but not having a strong focus/direction can make me a tad crazy. In the end though I think it was really a good pause in my life to stop and consider what I really ‘wanted’ to do.
Any side projects or you’re working on that you’d like to share details of?
I always have a large list of projects up on my whiteboard which I hope to complete at one time or another! They mostly consist of Picture Book ideas as well as the odd animated short. Currently I’m finishing up some contract work but after that I hope to get cracking on some of those personal projects. Perhaps if all goes well there will be a picture book written and illustrated by myself in the not too distant future!
Any unusual talents or hobbies like tying a cherry stem with your tongue or metallurgy?
Sadly I possess no random amazing talents such as reading people’s thoughts, mind blowing magic skills or the ability to juggle flaming sheep while playing a ukulele. I can strum a chord or two on my guitar and have a small obsession with vinyl figures and collecting art books though 😀
Is there any advice you can give for an aspiring animation student or artist trying to break into the business?
In my opinion the two best things you can do to break into this industry is practice and get your work out there. If you want to get into this business bad enough you should be able to find the time to practice, practice and practice. The internet has everything right there at your fingertips, whether it’s other artists for inspiration, life/art reference, or tips/lessons. Now that you have practiced and become a pretty good artist you need to get your stuff out there. Start a blog, tumblr, forum accounts, twitter…etc. You can be the best artist in the world but if no one knows you exist, well then it doesn’t really matter if you are great or terrible. There is such a great wealth of talented and experienced professionals online, don’t be afraid to email or comment to them. Ask for advice, critiques, or tips. If you want it bad enough, do everything you can to make sure it will happen.