Einar Baldvin

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What is your name and your current occupation?
Einar Baldvin, independent animator. I do both my own projects as well as freelance.

What are some of the crazier jobs you had before getting into animation?
My father counts ducks and I would assist him when I was younger. It’s all operated from a reportedly haunted research station far up north in Iceland. A very fun place for a child.

What are some of your favorite projects you’re proud to have been a part of?My film ‘Baboon’ it was my first 2-d film (I did cut-outs before) it was fun to make and the the first festival to accept it was Annecy. I met my wife, Jeanette Bonds there. The film went on to play at Ottawa as well which was another amazing experience.  Last year I was fortunate enough to animate on a project executive produced by James Franco ‘The Labyrinth’. He was teaching a class at USC along with John Watson (who produced Backdraft among other things) where they selected some of the brightest students at USC to make eight shorts based on the loose theme of “the unexplained and the unimaginable”. The shorts were to be cut into a feature and I was contacted close to the end to make animation in order to tie it all together. It was a bit crazy since the animation is essentially 2 minutes of hand drawn POV shots because the idea was really to let the audience get lost in a labyrinth. I don’t do any 3-d and I making it in After Effects seemed more trouble than it was worth so I just went ahead and drew everything, it was more than worth it in the end. It was a great project to work on, everyone involved was a pleasure to work with and I even got to record James for the voiceover.
Where are you from and how did you get into the animation business?
I’m from Iceland. I always enjoyed drawing, monsters and animals in particular when I was a kid. I would make illustrated stories and comics so when the time came to go to college( it made sense to do something art related. I never wanted to do fine art because it is generally far removed from what I am interested in. Animation made the most sense to me since it appeared to involve everything I liked or was into. I did some research and found out about CalArts when I was reading about Tim Burton and saw that aside from him all these other hotshots had gone there as well. I decided to apply to the program in experimental animation even though the deadline was in a month and I had nothing prepared. I made my first animated film somehow and sent to them only to be rejected but decided to apply again. I made another film and submitted both along with a portfolio of drawings and got in the second time. I arrived in the US in 2005 and have been involved in animation since, in fact I just completed my MFA in animation at USC.

What’s a typical day like for you with regards to your job?
Since I freelance and make my own projects It depends on what stage of a project I am in but generally it involves drawing for most of the day whether it is design, storyboarding or animating. The deeper into the project the longer the days, I often draw for 12-14 hours a day but it doesn’t fee like it because it’s a lot of fun.

What part of your job do you like best? Why?
I like the actual animating the best. I can’t get enough of that part. It’s deeply immersive and incredibly rewarding. Seeing your test makes all the hard work worth it. I don’t get the same sense of excitement with other parts of the process even though I do really enjoy working on the sound at the end.
What part of your job do you like least? Why?
Some of the more repetitive elements are hard to do. My last film ‘The Pride of Strathmoor’ is all done on paper without compositing. Inking every frame and re-drawing the backgrounds was not that pleasant. I feel cleaning it up and composting it would have been worse though. At least doing it this way, the post production was easy and I got a look that was perfect for the film which is based on the idea of visually representing a mad man’s journal.

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?
I used to work a lot in After Effects, which is a pretty great program, at CalArts but for the last few years I have used it less. I really enjoy working on paper as much as I can right now. So to answer the question: Technology affects me very little right now except in the way that it’s getting easier to submit to festivals as well as show my work online. I’m definitely not against trying any method though, I just really enjoy the traditional way of animating right now. When my house fills up with drawings, I might have to get a tablet.

What is the most difficult part for you about being in the business?
I think the only thing that is hard is not animation related. I miss Iceland, I have an incredible family over there and a big group of friends that I have known since I was a kid. Reykjavik is very small and everyone I know is within walking distance of each other. I definitely miss that.

If you could change the way the business works and is run how would you do it?
I can’t speak to the business aspect of it but I can focus on content. I would like to see more adult oriented animation made in the US for a wide audience. I’m not referring to overtly violent or sexual content like we do see some of because that’s not really for adults in the proper sense of the word. I would like to see something similar to what we see in live-action all the time both in theaters and on TV, all genres really.  I think a primetime animated drama series or a high budget feature film beyond a PG rating is something that is long overdue.
In your travels, have you had any brushes with animation greatness?
I am afraid I am going to leave someone out but yes, plenty, I met Peter Millard who make some of the funniest and most original animations I have ever seen at Ottawa in 2012 as well as Hisko Hulsing and Ainslie Henderson (who both went on to win prizes there that year with ‘Junkyard’ and ‘I am Tom Moody’ ) I would keep an eye out for those guys. At Annecy I shared a room with Will Anderson whose film ‘The Making of Longbird’ was very successful and met my wife of course. Here in LA, I meet fantastic (and famous) animators all the time, Tom Sito and Peter Chung were both my teachers at USC and through Tom I was was introduced to Eric Goldberg and got to pick his brain for a little bit. I think the most amazing thing was seeing Richard Williams lecture at The Academy this year and get a glimpse at his unbelievable new animation. Of course going both to CalArts and USC for animation means I’m surrounded by talent at all times, both faculty and students. I feel rather spoiled.
Describe a tough situation you had in life.
I took up boxing while I was researching my latest film ‘The Pride of Strathmoor’. I trained hard and I was doing well for about 18 months, growing a little over-confident in my abilities until I had a full contact sparring session with a tough fighter from another club. I couldn’t really match his ferocity and strength so he beat the crap out of me. I’m very tall and at the time I kept myself underweight to be in a lower weight class (to make the reach even more extreme) so I boxed on the outside using my reach. It meant that when things went well they went really well and I barely got hit but when things got bad like in this instance, they got pretty bad. After this encounter I had to stay away from sparring for a month or so but after that I actually sought out my opponent’s trainer and started training with them. They have a gym ‘Jakaból’ which is a very famous strongman gym that has boxing on the top floor. The Mountain from Game of Thrones lifts there for example and it is run by Magnus Ver Magnusson, former strongest man in the world and Skuli Armannsson who became my boxing trainer. Skuli really pushed me and I was sometimes sparring both in the morning and at night, including with the fighter who had just beat me up. It was immensely hard but at the end of the summer I would do rounds with those guys and not get hit. Everything feels pretty easy compared to that summer.

Any side projects you’re working on that you’d like to share details of?
I co-founded GLAS Animation with my wife, Jeanette Bonds. It is a non-profit dedicated to fund innovative independent animators. We filed for non-profit so donations are now tax-deductible which is exciting because it means we are that much closer to become a fully functioning entity. Besides Jeanette, Jerry Beck, Maja Burnett and Christine Panushka are the board of directors. You can find out more about us on http://www.glasanimation.com I’m also working on a new short which I won’t say much about except that it will make everyone afraid of the ocean.

Any unusual talents or hobbies like tying a cherry stem with your tongue or metallurgy?
I am exceptionally good at calculating percentages in my head.

Is there any advice you can give for an aspiring animation student or artist trying to break into the business?
Work hard, animate things the hard way, without easy shortcuts and then make complete films and make sure that they are your own personal thing. Make sure you get your film shown, submit it to everything you can. My biggest mistake with my first films was not sending them to festivals or promoting them but when I finally did with ‘Baboon’ it changed my life completely.

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