What is your name and your current occupation?
Associate Professor of Digital Media Arts, Freelance Illustrator, and Collector of Absurd Non-Perishable Food Items.
What are some of the crazier jobs you had before getting into animation?
Shoveling out chicken coops was probably the craziest. Between kamikaze roosters and all the airborne particulate matter, it wasn’t the most effervescent experience…
What are some of your favorite projects you’re proud to have been a part of?
One of my favorite projects was doing the artwork the popsicle stick theater segments for some episodes of the VeggieTales Animated series , Another project was doing the art work for an animated TV spot for the National Associate of Broadcasters. I also did some illustration work for a Finnish Blues Band called The Milk Cows.
How did you become interested in animation?
When I was a kid my dad used to show me the old original Popeye cartoons, which he himself loved. So that’s probably when my interest started. What really blew my socks off though is when I saw Richard Condie’s “The Big Snit”. To this day, that’s my favorite animated short film. Part of it is, the drawing style and character designs are so distinctive. To me it feels like animated cartooning (if that makes any sense). You can feel Condie’s individual personality in the art. My own work is very cartoony and loose, and seeing an animated film that celebrates that vibe made me very happy. Plus it’s freakin’ hilarious.
Where are you from and how did you get into the animation business?
I grew up in Vermont and went to college at The Columbus College of Art and Design. After college I got a job at Microsoft doing illustration and animation for their early multimedia titles for children. (Fun fact, I was the first full time illustrator to work at Microsoft.) After that I got a job at Big Idea Productions the animation studio that made VeggieTales where I was the head of their 3D illustration department. I also worked with Keith Lango there, perfecting the world’s first food bomb based on a bottle of YooHoo and a chocolate donut.
What’s a typical day like for you with regards to your job?
Now I teach digital media arts at Huntington University in Indiana, and I’ve been doing freelance illustration for over 20 years. I also use the summers to work on my own projects. A typical teaching day revolves around preparing for my classes and teaching my classes. Otherwise I’m always drawing and doodling and working with freelance clients. I also try to keep my website devoted to strange food, obscure albums and odd advertising, updated.
What part of your job do you like best? Why?
I love helping students figure out what creative gifts they have, what they’re most passionate about, and what they can really succeed at. That is awesome. I also enjoy making them listen to music where the lead singer is some sort of animal (dogs are funny, but parrots really test your mettle). Over the years I’ve developed a ton of friends in the animation and illustration community and I often have them interact with my students using video chat, etc. Working with these friends is so fun. Also working on freelance and personal projects where I get to draw things in my own style is a blast. Especially if it involves robots, perplexed animals, or zombies. And if it has all three, SCORE!
What part of your job do you like least? Why?
Ha! You thought I was going to say “meetings”. Heck, I thought I was going to say “meetings”. But, since it helps me to focus, I get a lot drawing done during meetings, so they’re not so bad. I used to love cafeterias, but now that I’ve been teaching at a college for 7 years, they’re just not as exciting as they used to be. So, I’m not too happy about that.
What kind of technology do you work with on a daily basis?
I use photoshop every day for illustration work and sometimes for just doodling. I also use Maya for 3d stuff, and Premiere for editing, and InDesign for layouts. My favorite piece of technology though is probably a sharpie pen.
What is the most difficult part for you about being in the business?
The constantly changing technology can be challenging. Teaching wise, getting to work with students for a few years and then having them leave can be a bummer. Also, when you work at home and your office is right next to the kitchen, it’s hard to lose weight.
In your travels, have you had any brushes with animation greatness?
I met John Lasseter once when he gave a talk at Microsoft, back in like 1993 or so. I also got to meet Maurice Sendak and that was an incredible experience. Once I bumped into a Gumby at ComicCon. He was soft, like a giant loaf of Wonder Bread.
Any side projects you’re working on that you’d like to share details of?
I recently finished up a new children’s picture book called Animal Gas and I’m helping put together a graphic novel anthology about Zombies called Dead Anyway. I’m also working on another graphic novel for kids. Also, I am co-founder of Suxco, so be sure to check that out.
Any unusual talents or hobbies like tying a cherry stem with your tongue or metallurgy?
I can whistle really fast, while doing hammer-ons on an electric ukulele.
Is there any advice you can give for an aspiring animation student or artist trying to break into the business?
Try and figure out a combination of what you are good at (and can get better at) and what you absolutely love to do. I wish I’d figured that out a lot sooner that I did.