What would you say has been your primary job in animation?
I’ve mostly been a Director in my career. I was lucky enough to start Directing really young. I was 23 when I got my first job as Producer/Director of Mummies Alive. I’ve been fortunate enough to remain as a Director pretty steadily since then.
What are some of the crazier jobs you had before getting into animation?
I mostly worked in construction with my Dad but I did work as the assistant to the ice cream maker at Swenson’s when I was 13. That was an awesome job and I ate a lot of cheap ice cream. Still, to this day, I make some pretty good ice cream. I delivered pizzas for Domino’s for a while in college and worked the graveyard shift at a toy factory.
How did you become interested in animation?
In 9th grade, I was in an art class and the first assignment was just to do pencil on paper. That was the requirement. Most people finished in a day or a week and moved onto the next assignment. I spent the entire semester on mine. I wasn’t screwing around either. I worked hard every day I was in art on my pencil and paper piece. I kind of always drew but that was the first time I thought “I wonder if there’s a career where you can get paid for just sitting around and drawing all day and making shit up.” I didn’t know that there was such a thing as a career in animation at the time. I had no concept of how animation was done.
Where are you from and how did you get into the animation business?
I grew up in Ventura and I had a friend who went to CalArts. When I was in high school, I used to go out to CalArts for the insane parties they had. I don’t know how family friendly this needs to be so I won’t elaborate but WOW. So I thought, this is where I need to go. What could I take here. My friend was in the character animation department so I went in during one of the parties to snoop around. I found my way to the camera room where a student was shooting pencil tests for his film. It was a story about an old guy with a square head and a little girl with a round head who gets her balloon stuck in a tree and the old guy reluctantly helps her. It was the first time I had seen rough animation. I was hooked. I didn’t know you could bring drawings to life like that. I remembered that students name because it was a bit unusual. I mean, I was pretty drunk at the time but I remembered his name. It was Pete Docter.
What’s a typical day like for you with regards to your job?
I sit down and open up DeviantArt. It’s inspiring to see the collection of artists I follow from seasoned professionals to people just starting out. That usually makes me want to draw. After that, I turn on the music and disappear. The more I can escape into the work the better the work. There are times, there are jobs, when you look at the clock and just want it to be the end of the day. But these days, working on my own thing, there aren’t enough hours in the day. I get into what I’m drawing and then the next thing I know three hours have gone by. There are times when I’m drawing where I don’t realize that I haven’t changed position in hours and then I finally sit up and can hear my back crack. The best part of every day is that I get to sit around and listen to music and draw all day and make shit up. It has made for a bit of a peter pan complex because I’m doing the thing I thought it would be cool to do when I was in 9th grade but then that’s how life should be for everyone.
What part of your job do you like best? Why?
I like acting with the pencil. It’s fun coming up with the gags and it’s fun staging the shots but the place I really love is when I settle into a scene and pose the ___ out of it. I tend to have really long scenes in the things I do because I would rather stay on a character and just see them act than cut around. I guess it’s the same thing that drew me to animation in the first place. Creating life from a stack of drawings.
What part of your job do you like least? Why?
The business. It sucks. I hate studio politics. I tend to bounce around a lot because of that. It seems like there’s so much BS that goes on and I just want to smack people and say “We’re just making cartoons!” I wish I could say that I was immune to the politics but I’m sure I’ve been guilty of it in the past. I’m only human. It’s another reason why I love what I’m doing now. There’s no politics. I would rather have a bunch of amazing artists working their hardest to do the best work of their entire career. It’s gross when artists get involved in the politics. I think it’s a sign of weakness as an artist. It’s like you know you’re not as good as that other person so you’re going to leverage your position to make that person’s life a living hell when a lot of the time that guys just trying to make a paycheck to feed his family. I’ve worked for some really A-Holes in my times. Producers mostly who want you to bow before them. Life’s too short to degrade yourself and your art to the level of A-Holes.
What is the most difficult part for you about being in the business?
The Business. The A-Holes. As I get older, I’m discovering there’s a lot of age-ism as well. I started really young and I always tried to have a lot of respect for the people who were working for me who were older than I was. I always tried to learn from them. The industry just went through a real low and a lot of people left and suddenly I find myself on the “OLD GUYS”. It’s like there are only 20 somethings and 40 somethings because the last ten years was not the time to get into the industry. SO if you’re still here after the hard time, you’re most likely the “old” guys. It sucks that our industry doesn’t have the mentor/apprentice relationship it was originally designed to have.
What kind of technology do you work with on a daily basis?
I’m on a Cintiq all day, although I also have a traditional drawing table set up in my studio. I work in Photoshop, Flash, After Effects, Premiere, Final Cut, Final Draft, Sound Booth, Sketchup and of course Storyboard Pro. I do everything from script to screen. I don’t think there are a lot of us out there. I’ve tried to learn new things constantly. I really want to learn Maya but so far I’ve been too busy working to pick it up.
In your travels, have you had any brushes with animation greatness?
The single coolest animation greatness moment I’ve experienced in my career was when I got to tour Studio Ghibli while they were making Princess Mononoke. That was a game changing moment for me. I thought that I would always have to leave animation to do something I really wanted to do but seeing Miyazaki’s studio inspired me to push toward having my own studio someday where I just work on my own things. I feel like I’m just at the beginning of that journey with this project. I hope.
Describe a tough situation you had in life.
This past year, I had twin baby girls. They arrived two and a half months early. We spent every single day of the 7 and 9 weeks they were in the NICU at the hospital. It was hard but we have two healthy amazing daughters a year later. If I wasn’t working in animation and working for my own studio at the time, I never would have been able to make my hours work that way. We would get up and go into the hospital and spend 4 or 5 hours with the girls and then we would come home and I would work until 2 or 3 in the morning everyday.
Any side projects you’re working on you’d like to share details of?
Well, I can’t really say much but you can find some of the character art here:
Is there any advice you can give for an aspiring animation student or artist trying to break into the business?
If you want to get into the business, draw your ass off. All day. Every day. If you want to work in animation, you’re going to be expected to draw for at least 8 hours a day. Sometimes more. If you’re not working now, try sitting at a desk and drawing for 8 hours a day. It doesn’t matter what you draw. Draw for 8 hours a day and 5 days a week. Do that for a couple months and watch how much better you get. If you’re working but you want to get into the industry, draw for 8 hours a day at night. Gradually shift from whatever it is you’re doing for money to drawing for money and before you know it you’ll be in the industry.
What is your name?
What are some of your favorite projects you’re proud to have been a part of?
The project I used to get the most attention for was Adam Sandler’s Eight Crazy Nights. A few years after that, I worked on the revival season of Family Guy and suddenly that was the thing that got the most attention. The thing I’m the most proud of is the thing I’m working on now. For the first time in my career I’m working on a pilot for a show I created. It’s not a lot of money but it is a lot of potential and it’s by far the thing I’m the most proud of. Whether it goes to series or not, this will always be a very special project for me because it’s the first of my own thing that I’m producing through my own little studio. Quite a few dreams coming true.