What is your name and your current occupation?
My name is Mike Blum and I am a director, producer, writer and owner of two boutique production companies, Pipsqueak Films and Blumayan Films. Pipsqueak Films works on animated content of all sorts and Blumayan Films produces live action features.
What are some of the crazier jobs you had before getting into animation?
I waited tables while being a ski bum after college. I couldn’t ski more than 5 feet without falling at the start of the season but was cruising black diamonds by the end. Never did learn to wait tables all that well…And when I was in junior high and high school I worked at this crazy nut, candy, coffee store called The Head Nut. Come to think of it, slinging nuts and candy is a lot like turning the crank in production — head down and scoop away!
What are some of your favorite projects you’re proud to have been a part of?
My favorite projects are the ones I’ve had the biggest hand in seeing through creatively. So, even though I worked on nearly a dozen features with world class artists and technical people while at Disney Feature Animation, none gave me the same satisfaction as working on my first shorts, Oil & Vinegar and The Zit. And while a lot of my colleagues gave me funny looks when I told them I was leaving Disney to direct a series about a pair of talking testicles, The Adventures of Baxter & McGuire (for Comedy Central), got me nominated for an Emmy and took me to great festivals like Sundance and Annecy. And I worked with the amazing showrunners Michael Weithorn and Nick Bakay. But my favorite project so far is the one I just completed, Samurai! Daycare. It’s a 10 part, Flash animated web series I did for the new YouTube channel, Shut Up! Cartoons. It’s the first property I sold that made it all the way to series and it was great fun to showrun my own creation.
How did you become interested in animation?
Where are you from and how did you get into the animation business?
I’ll answer these 2 questions together…. I was a huge fan of Bugs Bunny growing up. I know, I know I have such unusual tastes. But I really never had any classic artistic skills and grew up so far removed from “the industry” in the Philadelphia ‘burbs, it never occurred to me in at least a conscious way that it could be a career. I did, however, become fascinated with computers and began creating my own video games as a very young kid. I made my own versions of Frogger and Night Racer back in junior high and computers eventually became my way into the field. I got a Masters in Computer Science where I specialized in computer animation, and I used that experience to leverage a job as a programmer at Disney creating tools for artists. I had fun for a couple of years doing this but eventually realized I didn’t really know how artists worked, so I sold the company on allowing us to do a training project — creating an actual animated short — in order to learn the production process. That first short sucked, but I absolutely fell in love with movie making and worked hard for another 7 or 8 years to get good enough so that I could take the leap into being creative full time. Ironically, that opportunity came at the worst time for me professionally. Literally the week the studio shut down our production (Disney’s version of Toy Story 3, not the version that Pixar eventually made), I got the offer to produce and direct Baxter & McGuire. I don’t believe in fate, but I was sure glad I was prepared.
What’s a typical day like for you with regards to your job?
When I am in production, the day starts at 7am and often doesn’t end until 1am. We aren’t a big enough outfit to be able to afford to have any fat, so I end up acting as a PA, accountant and technical director in addition to producing and directing. When we are not in production, I am developing our properties, writing and scaring up new production gigs.
What part of your job do you like best? Why?
I LOVE working with artists in pre-production and production. To me it is so rewarding to be able to pull together folks who are so talented in areas that I will never be and watch as we create something much greater than the sum of the parts. And try as I might (I took art classes for years at Disney Feature Animation) I will never really be able to draw or paint, so working with artists is a real joy for me.
What part of your job do you like least? Why?
I hate dealing with money issues — balancing the books, raising funds, etc.
What kind of technology do you work with on a daily basis?
Depends on the project. We work on Apple and PC platforms and often both on any individual project. On the 2d side, we work mainly with Flash and After Effects. On the 3d side, we work with Maya and a variety of compositing packages. For editing packages, we have worked with Avid, Final Cut and Premiere. For our live action projects, we shoot digitally. We used the Sony F3 to shoot our feature film, The Playback Singer.
What is the most difficult part for you about being in the business?
The constant hustle to prove yourself and remain on people’s radar is the most taxing part of the business.
In your travels, have you had any brushes with animation greatness?
Gosh, I guess that depends on how you define greatness. I met, worked with and became friendly with tons of legendary animators, producers, executives and directors while at Disney – Glen Keane, Barry Cook, David Stainton, Tom Schumacher, Oskar Urretabizkaia, Eamonn Butler, Don Hahn, Mark Walton are just a few names that were instrumental in my growth. I’ve also had the opportunity to meet talented actors and filmmakers through my own small successes. It was pretty cool to rub shoulders with the cast of The Office at the Emmy awards and meet folks like Dennis Hopper, Quentin Tarantino, and Robert Redford at Sundance. I’ve also been very fortunate to become friendly with my animation hero, Bill Plympton, who I consider the perfect mix of artist and businessman.
Describe a tough situation you had in life.
Taking care of my dad when he came down with Leukemia a number of years ago was really tough. We all eventually have to deal with our parents mortality but nothing really prepares you for that inevitability.
Any side projects you’re working on that you’d like to share details of?
We are prepping an animated comedy series that I am really excited about but unfortunately can’t talk too much about yet. It’s very high concept and combines two of the most popular genres going today in a very twisted way. More soon! We are also nearly ready to take out our feature script, Below. Below asks the question “what if not every dinosaur met a cataclysmic end when a fiery asteroid collided with Earth 65 million years ago? What if a lucky few burrowed deep underground to escape the devastation, and over the eons evolved, developing speech, written language, and advanced technology long before man first walked the earth?” I’m also keen on directing Surface Tension that I developed with Alan Brennert, based on the Science Fiction Hall of Fame novella by James Blish. We’ve had a tough time setting it up because it’s not a humor-first project, but I still love the concept of microscopic humans living on an alien world and Tom Dow did some great visual development for us that still puts a smile on my face. And finally, we just completed the live-action feature film I produced called The Playback Singer. We are just beginning the festival and distribution phase for the film and are excited to share the film.
Any unusual talents or hobbies like tying a cherry stem with your tongue or metallurgy?
My wife counsels me to admit to nothing!
Is there any advice you can give for an aspiring animation student or artist trying to break into the business?
You need to have perseverance and confidence but you also need to develop a thick skin and be not only be open to criticism but welcome it. Good, well meaning feedback will make your work better. And since very few people make it in the industry by being one-man shows, you need to be able to work well with peers and supervisors.
Great interview. Always inspiring to read about folks striking out on their own to follow their own creative urge and have it rewarded.
That was a great interview. Any advice you might have for a former Los Angeles resident, now stuck in the ‘burbs of Dallas, trying to get an animation script looked at? While I know that it’s very tough to get an agent in L.A., it’s even tougher here. (I actually managed to get one, but she had the discourtesy to pass away!)
Thanks for any feedback,