What is your name and your current occupation?
My name is Will Kistler and I’m currently a character animator.
What are some of the crazier jobs you had before getting into animation?
For a while I was a tour guide at Mammoth Cave National Park, where I led tours through the cave. I also did a brief stint as a substitute teacher. Turns out, 9th and 10 graders are not especially keen to learn algebra. After college I spent a year teaching English in Japan. That was a great time, since it let me travel for an extended period. I was doing animation school online at the time, and I hate to admit it, but my studies suffered. When faced with the option of animating all day, or going to check out a temple I might never get to see again, I wasn’t going to NOT go see the temple. I tried to do both, but the animation got ignored a little more than it should have.
What are some of your favorite projects you’re proud to have been a part of?
My most recently released project was Life of Pi. I was extremely happy with how that came out. We spent a lot of time making sure the tiger moved as realistically as possible, which meant a big part of my day was getting to watch and study videos of tigers. That makes for a pretty great work day. I’ve also gotten to work on the Alvin and the Chipmunk movies. Realistic tigers are great, but there’s a different kind of fun in getting to animate more anthropomorphic animals singing and dancing.
Where are you from and how did you get into the animation business?
I’m from Kentucky originally. My break into animation was being accepted into an apprenticeship program at Rhythm and Hues, which led to me working on the first Alvin and the Chipmunks film.
What’s a typical day like for you with regards to your job?
Usually in the morning I’ll attend dailies and get feedback on my current shots, either from my supervisor or my animation director. After that I’m mostly left alone to do my work. I’ll work on my shots, shoot and analyze reference, and confer with my supervisor, but the majority of my day isn’t very regimented, so I can do all that stuff on my own schedule as long as I’m getting my work done.
I really love the start of each shot, where I get to brainstorm and block ideas for the actions my character will take. I also enjoy working at larger companies where I get to specialize more. Generalist work is OK, but the thing I really like to to do is animate, so if someone else wants to handle other parts of the pipeline so I can stick to animating, then bless them.
What part of your job do you like least? Why?
There aren’t a lot of parts I don’t like. Taking a shot from blocking to something more polished is a challenge sometimes, but it’s rewarding at the end when it starts to come together and resemble an actual finished shot.
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?
I use either proprietary studio software or Maya for animation. There have been tools that have made it easier, but I feel like what I do is largely the same as it was 5 years ago. I still wrangle keyframes and animation curves most of the day, and those are mostly the same.
So far I’ve only been contracted a few months at a time. I love the work I do when I’m working, but having to line up more jobs when I a contract has ended, or is about to end is quite stressful for me.
In your travels, have you had any brushes with animation greatness?
No personal interactions, but I living in LA I get to see an animation talk or a director Q&A once in a while. Things like that are always a lot of fun.
After my first round of school I couldn’t get hired for anything. I was living with my parents and applying for job after job, and just got no response. I sent off at least 80 reels to anyone who might need any kind of animation, and it started to get a little depressing. It made me realize that I wasn’t good enough yet to break in, so I signed up for Animation Mentor, which thankfully taught me way more of the things I wanted to know, and left me with reel that actually helped me.
Nothing that is ready to share at the moment.
Any unusual talents or hobbies like tying a cherry stem with your tongue or metallurgy?
I like to play the banjo and have recently taken some classes in puppeteering. I’d like to think I can throw together a decent meal in the kitchen, also.
Is there any advice you can give for an aspiring animation student or artist trying to break into the business?
I’m sure it’s said in many places, but networking is very helpful in getting noticed. A great reel is necessary, but being able to talk to recruiters or people working in the industry is also extremely valuable. Also, don’t be precious with your work when you’re getting started. When you do break in, remember than an animator who can accept notes gracefully and make changes asked for by supervisors and directors will have a much easier time than one who can’t. I think most people that have done this for a while know that, but if you can start out with a good attitude toward getting notes and taking direction, even better.