What is your name and your current occupation?
Freelance Story Artist and Visiting Professor at the Cleveland Institute of Art
What are some of the crazier jobs you had before getting into animation?
I’ve never had any really crazy jobs because they’ve all been centered around art in one way or another. But I’ve had art jobs that seemed crazy because I was desperate and needed to feed my family. Spending hours on end doing photo retouch for a down and out wedding photographer only to barely make minimum wage comes to mind…
What are some of your favorite projects you’re proud to have been a part of?
Every show I get to work on is one I take pride in being part of. Getting paid to draw pictures and tell stories all day while taking care of my family is a privilege and a blessing! But one of the projects that I feel was the most rewarding wasn’t a client job. It was helping to create a multi-media limited animation for my church a few years ago—A stage size picture book where scrims doubled as snow covered rolling hills and movie screens that had the animatic projected onto them. The story process was much like the Pixar process. We had nothing more than a premise that we formed through improv until it rapidly congealed into a script. And when we coupled that with an original score and live music in between each Act it became a very powerful message. We came together as a group with such wide ranging abilities and developed a meaningful original story that spoke to over 5000 people in one weekend. I was very fortunate to be used by God and to blend so quickly with a handful of creatives in such a short time. Humbling, to be honest…
Where are you from and how did you get into the animation business?
I’m from the Northeast Ohio area and I spent the first 12 years of my career working as a freelance illustrator for magazines and because that market was so spotty and the budgets so ever-dwindling, I worked day jobs as a graphic designer. Which bored me because it was so easy…then one day the boredom drove me stir crazy and I got tired of watching my drawing skills wither on the vine so I quit the day gig….but full time freelance during the housing crisis was brutal (see above down and out retouch gig). Then one day I watched the Incredibles behind the scenes disk and watched the story artists pitching their boards and boy did the light bulb go off! That moment changed everything for me as an artist. I went from feeling like Will Smith’s character in The Pursuit of Happyness to feeling like Will Smith in basically any of his other movies….I took every single class and workshop I could find from pros like Sergio Paez to Matt Luhn and Rad Sechrist to politely soliciting ( begging) for portfolio advice from pros like Josie Trinidad and Francis Glebas. I researched studios around the globe and sent my new online storyboard portfolio link to all of the studios on my list. I got my first break on the number one show in Britain’s CITV Network— Horrid Henry. The studio was Spider Eye Animation. The rest has been a steady up hill climb with a few leaps forward and a couple of steps backward and some sideways steps that pushed me further ahead than I could have ever imagined!
What’s a typical day like for you with regards to your job?
I get up and help my wife get the kiddos ready for school, then I spend an hour answering client emails and doing administrative stuff. Then I exercise between 9a and 10a. By 10a I’m juiced and ready to tackle art. I spend a half hour doing warm up drawing including figure studies. Then I jump into the day’s boards. Sometimes it’s thumbnails and roughs. Other days it’s clean-ups and labeling. I’ll usually work until 7p. When deadlines get tight the days start earlier and end later, but they always include spending time with my wife and kiddos even if it’s just reading bedtime stories with them. I try not to make a habit of that, though. No matter how busy I get or how important the client is, your kids are only young once…and I’ve learned the hard way that leading an imbalanced life has bad consequences…for every one in the home.
What part of your job do you like best? Why?
I get to tell stories, be a cinematographer, actor and artist all in one job—what a great challenge and privilege! It’s tough to beat that!
What part of your job do you like least? Why?
Having to ask my kiddos to leave the studio when I’m in a deadline crunch and haven’t spent more than an hour or two with them in a two or three day period…
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?
An IMac with a Cintiq using Photoshop to draw and Storyboard Pro to organize boards and create animatics. The immediacy of working digitally has allowed me to get a lot of work done faster, and also explore different options faster without wasting paper…I still thumbnail on paper, though, generally right on the script page. And usually away from the studio— a coffee shop or when the weather permits at a well-wooded park near my house.
What is the most difficult part for you about being in the business?
The most difficult part is always beating the bushes trying to drum up work without driving potential clients batty with my polite but intent job queries. There’s a fine line between earnest determination and restraining-order-inducing harassment…
If you could change the way the business works and is run how would you do it?
One of the biggest hurdles coming into the entertainment world mid-career is that the big studios that offer training programs only do so to students and recent grads. And those training programs are the first and often best access to those big names in the industry. Even if you don’t get hired right away, you’re on the extremely short list of first call potential hires…I think if I were to modify the process I would open up the training program to include anyone that shows the requisite talent and potential, whatever their age. Then let the older trainee determine whether or not his/her family can deal with raman for 6 months if it leads to organic pasta and a story position on a major feature animation down the road…
In your travels, have you had any brushes with animation greatness?
I go to CTN every year and have had the good fortune to spend many moments with a great many major talents. They’ve all been great artists who turned about to be greater people. Extremely generous with their time and advice!
Describe a tough situation you had in life.
Telling my little girl she couldn’t do ballet any more because work had gotten too slow…you want better for your kids than you had growing up…not worse. And the nagging feeling that you’re Captain Ahab leading your family down the drain after the “white whale” of an art career has kept me up at nights occasionally…
Any side projects you’re working on that you’d like to share details of?
Adaboy! It’s a transmedia story that I’ve had the good fortune to be a part of helping develop. It’s the brain child of Disney sculpting supervisor, Zack Petroc ( including supervising on the upcoming Big Hero 6!). Here’s a link to the current web page: http://www.theadaboy.com/ But big changes and updates to the story and webpage will be coming soon, so stay tuned!
Any unusual talents or hobbies like tying a cherry stem with your tongue or metallurgy?
I play bass in an electric, latin, jazz, funk trio called Intransit, and we perform original music regionally. If you’ve ever wondered what an epileptic marionette puppet looks like playing funky tumbaos on bass then watch us live..I sort of get into it… I also have the strange habit of talking in different voices at the drop of the hat. One day I decided I’d start singing random things like Peter Cetera, the old bass player of Chicago. Totally random things like, “Who wants Peanut Butter and Jelly for lunch?”
Is there any advice you can give for an aspiring animation student or artist trying to break into the business?
I’m very blessed to be a working artist and life is truly good even when things are difficult. Difficulty is just a part of life and part of the nature of being an artist. Nothing comes easy in this biz, so I try to remember to stay balanced, stay flexible and never stop learning!