What is your name and your current occupation?
My current name is Gerry Mooney, and my occupation is Director of Motion Graphics for a litigation graphics firm in Westchester, New York.
What are some of the crazier jobs you had before getting into animation?
I designed slot machines for a tiny outfit in Charlotte, NC, for a year. It was moderately interesting, in that there is some amazingly sophisticated graphic and animation work being done for slots and their related displays these days, but the downside is that the gambling industry is not that interesting. So it was fun to do the work, but what you were selling was not very challenging.
In between my magazine illustrating days and animation, I did web design for a few years. One temp job I got was with a pretty major NY ad agency where the entire web staff had walked out the day before, so they were desperate for freelancers to jump in and take up the slack. I worked there for a month and the odd thing was that since everyone had walked out, I never knew for that whole month who exactly I was supposed to report to. I handed in my work to a guy across the hall, but he wasn’t my superior or manager, he was just a guy who was still there. I’ve always managed to make my living as an artist though. I worked in a framing shop after college, assisted Joe Simon in his home studio back years ago, and did layout and pasteup for a physics journal, “The Physical Review” at Brookhaven National Laboratory. I spent most of my professional career as a magazine illustrator for pubs like Forbes, Parents, The New Republic, Cruising World, Medical Economics, The NY Daily News, a Consumer Reports magazine for kids called Zillions, and American Express, clients like that. One of my favorites was doing a regular humor feature for Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, called “Mooney’s Modules”. That ran for three years and was the first place the Gravity Poster was seen by a large audience.
What are some of your favorite projects you’re proud to have been a part of?
Certainly that Asimov’s gig would be at the top of the list. I would submit a bunch of sketches, and I’d be surprised at some of the ideas they signed off on. I wondered sometimes if they actually got the jokes or if they just didn’t want to appear that they didn’t.
I completed an animated music video last year where I was given complete creative control. It was for Shawn Letts, an American musician who lives and works in Singapore. It was a dream job! I was just told, “Call us when it’s done”. I really felt free to explore imagery and effects that I could just play around with, without having to “sell” a client on the concepts. And then of course there’s my graphic novel, “Sister Mary Dracula”, which is currently being shopped around to publishers. It originated as a Flash animation that I did in 2001 and put online. It got accepted as an entry in the San Diego Comicon’s Independent Film Festival in 2004, which motivated me to expand it into a graphic novel that took me four years to complete. These are all one-man projects, not strictly speaking things that I was “a part of”; I WAS the projects!
How did you become interested in animation?
I’ve always been interested in animation and dabbled as a kid with both clay and cel animation, but they were both too infinitely laborious for a twelve-year-old, so after a few experiments, I put it all aside. I do still have a super 8 reel of some cel animation I did, which was actually done for a multimedia theatre piece in Tulsa, Oklahoma. One of these days I’ll get it digitized. Without a projector I haven’t been able to actually look at it for around thirty years.
Where are you from and how did you get into the animation business?
I grew up on Long Island reading Marvel Comics and MAD Magazine. I knew I wanted to be an artist but I never saw myself doing cel animation. It seemed anonymous and monolithic. In comic books I could see from the credits it was drawn by one guy; it was written by one guy. It seemed more approachable as a field. It was only with computers and cg animation that I really could seriously consider that animation was something I could do. In 1999 I saw an ad in an animation magazine for a program called Hash Animation:Master that didn’t cost a gazillion bucks. I taught myself a little, and within a couple of years I had a chance to create some animated legal exhibits. I only got serious about character animation about five years ago; the whole idea intimidated me. It’s such a complex process, and I’m mostly self-taught, but I feel like I’m making progress. Character animation is easily the coolest thing you can do with a computer I think!
What’s a typical day like for you with regards to your job?
In my day job, we do a good bit of animation, including AfterEffects, Flash and CG. We have 3DS Max installed on our machines, but I’m still a big fan and regular user of Animation:Master. When an animation job comes in, I just tell my boss I can do it quicker in A:M. However, the bulk of my work, other than pitching in on doing non-animating exhibits in Illustrator, is interactive Flash presentations. I’m the Flash guy here, so in one way it’s job security, but also, I’ve got no one else to blame when something goes tits up. I enjoy it though, anything technical is a challenge to me, and the more technical, the better I like it.
What part of your job do you like best? Why?
Every Christmas my boss likes to do some wacky CG animation for a holiday greeting. As the resident cartoonist, I’ve had the privelege of writing, storyboarding and animating several fun and off-the-wall animations. Last year, I needed to take a break, so I wrote and storyboarded the concept, but a co-worker did the actual animation. It’s a fun gig, though, and as long as I can sell an idea to my boss, I get a great deal of freedom with these holiday greetings.
What part of your job do you like least? Why?
Here’s the two-edged sword part: For several of those holiday animations we used uncleared music. I was always uncomfortable with the idea that I’d done this kickass animation but had to be ridiculously careful about who I showed it to. And our clients are all lawyers! For the last two years I convinced my boss that we could (and should) commission original music so there’s no sneaking around or being careful. So that’s been a plus moving forward, but still there are four or five pieces that I’ve done that, for instance, can’t go on YouTube.
What kind of technology do you work with on a daily basis?
I’m a Mac guy at home but at the office I’m on a Dell PC of some kind. The less I know about PC’s the better I like it, but I’ve gotten pretty good at troubleshooting and analyzing PC problems. Of the apps I use, as I said it’s Flash, Illustrator, Photoshop, Animation:Master, 3DS Max (in theory anyway), After Effects, and whatever video apps we need for capturing and converting video, which we have to do occasionally.
What is the most difficult part for you about being in the business?
Getting restless, wanting brilliant work to just flow effortlessly from my fingertips! It never gets easier, and there are always new challenges and new problems to overcome, not to mention the constant flow of new technologies to master. Someone make it stop!
In your travels, have you had any brushes with animation greatness?
I did a segment in Bill Plympton’s Guard Dog Animation Jam! It was great fun and I genuinely felt part of a team effort. They started a Facebook group and a lot of us are still in touch, and through them I’ve hooked up with several other Facebook animation groups.
I was approached by Howard Beckerman for storyboard samples for a book he was writing. I see him pretty regularly at National Cartoonist Society get-togethers and one thing led to another, but the book never did come about because of issues with the publisher. I was also approached by Nancy Beiman about the same thing, for her book “Prepare to Board”, but that also never came about, though her book was published.
Describe a tough situation you had in life.
Easily the toughest thing I have had to do professionally was when the magazine market died in the 90’s. One by one I lost my big clients, and finding new clients became almost impossible. I went from being self-employed for almost twenty five years to registering with employment and temp agencies and being interviewed by people who looked like teenagers. My only real skill is drawing when you come down to it, and not many places have illustrators on staff. So I taught myself web design and did that for a few years.
Any side projects you’re working on that you’d like to share details of?
Sure! I’m developing an animated sci-fi action-adventure story, “Nightcallers”, based on a web comic my wife and I did for several years in the 90’s. I’m close to completing a three-minute opening scene that jumps right into the action and introduces the main characters and the world they live in. I’ve got a bunch of animation tests and character tests on a blog at nightcallers.net, as well as some storyboards I did some time ago. The animation isn’t following the storyboards exactly though, as the story has changed a bit. But the storyboards still give a flavor of how the story is told, and where it’s going. I’m currently trying to decide how to move the project forward, whether or not to do a Kickstarter campaign, whether and how to pitch it to movie studios, stuff like that. It’s a fun, exciting story, I still love the characters and I work on it pretty much every day in one form or another.
Any unusual talents or hobbies like tying a cherry stem with your tongue or metallurgy?
Ballroom dancing? I don’t know if that’s unusual or not.
Is there any advice you can give for an aspiring animation student or artist trying to break into the business?
I would say, first and foremost, learn to draw, especially the figure. It will always benefit you, gives you an immediate advantage and never goes out of style, and computer programs are a poor substitute for that kind of knowledge. Beyond that, don’t give up, do what you love, and never stop learning!