Dagan Moriarty

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What is your name and your current occupation? 
My name is Dagan Moriarty, and I am currently an Asst. Art Director at ‘Sesame Workshop’ in NYC.

What are some of the crazier jobs you had before getting into animation?
I worked a few different jobs back in the day, before I graduated from HS and shipped off to Art School. My favorite was working in a skateshop, but that’s a gimme. There were definitely a few interesting and offbeat gigs peppered in there as well… I worked in a Bagel Store for 2 weeks for a really mean and cranky boss.  I accidentally burned an entire batch of bagels one morning, and I thought she was going to take my life right in front of the cream cheese case. She was so mad! That’s probably when I decided that a life in bagels wasn’t for me…Though I still find them delicious.  Back in High School, I had a friend who’s father was a Real Estate Agent. He sold a lot of foreclosed properties.  Often times he would need to completely gut the homes and clean them up before he could put them on the market… So he would pay us 100 dollars a piece to go into a house with a baseball bat or a table leg and just demolish the whole interior… It was amazing!  Cabinets, furniture, literally everything except for load-bearing walls. I still remember the roaches scattering as we wreaked havoc on everything in our path. Best summer job in history!  It was a great way to work out our teen angst while making some loot!

What are some of your favorite projects you’re proud to have been a part of? 
The two things that jump right to the top of my head are ‘The Mr. Men Show’ for my friends at Renegade Animation and the ‘Skunk-Fu’ animated series that we worked on for the mighty Cartoon Saloon over in Ireland. (Worked with the team over at Fat-Kat
Animation Studios on that one.) Both of those shows were a cut above in terms of quality and craftsmanship, and they were a lot of fun to be a part of. We’re also working on some really cool stuff right now over at Sesame that I am excited about… but I’ll keep those cards close to my chest for now.  🙂

How did you become interested in animation? 
First, through my grandfather. He was a wonderful artist who really loved to draw, and he imparted that passion to me very early on. I have a vivid memory of sitting with him when I was about 5 years old I guess, and he was teaching me how to draw Mickey Mouse. I remember being so dazzled as he drew. It was like, ”how are you even doing that?!” He owned a hair salon in NY and he would go do Life Drawing at the Art Student’s League at night. I think he always regretted not pursuing a career in art, and specifically, in animation. He really loved cartoons and cartooning. I had some teachers along the way who would tell me that animation and cartooning weren’t ”real” art. That it was garbage, and to pursue a life as a fine artist, as a painter. But my Grandfather was always there to show and tell me otherwise, and to cheer me on. He was always so thrilled to just draw with me and to share that joy with his grandson. I remember catching that bug from him when I was so young, just watching him color in a coloring book was magical… He would do a little bit of rendering, really cool ‘darks’ and ‘lights’ with a bit of blending, and I would just be so awestruck by that.  It was just Crayola Crayons and a coloring book, but in his hands it became something so special, and I just wanted to emulate that! I also remember very clearly, he would bring me a book each week from the city that he would give to me when we visited for Sunday dinner.  Life Drawing and ‘How To Draw’ books, and an amazing selection of illustrated picture books. I owe it all to him, Alessandro Ruggiero.  He took the time to share his talents with me, and as a result his passion for art was passed onto me. He was really one of my heroes, and I miss him a lot.

Where are you from and how did you get into the animation business? 
I’m from Long Island, New York.  I was born in Mineola and my parent’s moved us out to eastern Long Island in 1977, when I was three years old.  I grew up on the South Shore, in the tiny Hamlet of Brookhaven. Definitely one of my favorite little spots on planet earth. It’s a beautiful little spot out there, tucked away amidst the congestion, and removed from the Hamptons and all of that madness… I think they shot some of ‘The Great Gatsby’ there.  It’s an amazing place… beautiful, picturesque and quiet. I feel lucky to have grown up out there. We hope to have a summer house there someday, right on the bay.  Just a little bungalow with a old VW GTi in the garage and a barn where my wife and I can get old and paint our days away once the kids are grown.  🙂

What’s a typical day like for you with regards to your job
Well, my career in animation has unfolded mostly in New York City over the last 14 years, but I live out in the suburbs of Philadelphia.  So, three days a week I hop on a train and shuffle into NYC. I work from home a couple of days a week now, but I actually spent years doing the big commute five days per week!  It’s nice to commute a little bit less now, with 2 awesome kidlets and an amazing wife at home.  I also spent some time out in Los Angeles, but came back to settle out in the Northeast. NY and Philly are where it’s at for me. My heart is definitely out here. So, I have been working as an Asst. Art Director at Sesame Workshop for over 2 years now, and I am really enjoying it. We work on big, multifaceted educational projects that incorporate short episodic animations, interactive games, books, Flash cards and the like.  There are lots of fun creative challenges and it’s always busy. As an Asst. Art Director, I get the opportunity to help oversee and manage a small group of designers while also serving as a sort of ‘lead artist’ under the Art Director’s supervision. I have a big hand in helping to create and carry out the style while also controlling the quality and craftsmanship of the work.  It’s so much fun working with all of the classic Sesame characters that became such a part of my fabric growing up in the 70’s and 80’s. But we try to bring something new to it as well, from a visual perspective, which is super fun.  Sesame Street had a tremendous impact on me as a child, especially so many of those brilliant animated segments of the 70’s and 80’s. I am such a fan, still to this day!  It’s really thrilling and humbling to be a part of that tradition now.

What part of your job do you like best? Why?
I love any opportunity I get to draw or animate, however rough. There’s not always a great deal of time for those things when you’re helping to manage a crew and delegate tasks. So I really try to cherish those times that I can get my hands dirty for a while!  I do actually enjoy the organizational aspects of my job as well, it can be pretty therapeutic.  I really like the process of getting balanced before I launch into a creative endeavor. It allows me to jump off on the right foot, without having to look back. It lets me be truly creative I think, because I’m getting the lists and all the reference and art libraries and research set aside first… And an important thing to remember is that all of those tasks also help to sculpt the work creatively… It all has an impact!  And then when the ground is paved, we proceed to the really fun work!  So I enjoy helping to get the plans drafted, lining everything up, then attacking!  And having a fairly large creative stamp on the work is also very satisfying to me.
What part of your job do you like least? Why?
As an Art Director (Asst. Art Director), it can sometimes be difficult to overcome the urge to say ”I can just do this myself” rather than delegate the task to a designer.  But the fact is that there is often a good deal of work to be completed on a production, and you need to be realistic and keep the schedule in mind. Sometimes you need to entrust the juiciest bits of designing to the people on your team. There are always deadlines, so it’s important to be mindful of that. It can be tough to balance, but it’s actually a fun challenge and I think it sort of separates the men from the boys when art directing for animation. You must surround yourself with a good crew that you can trust, with each team member contributing according to their strengths. Like our small team at Sesame, which is such an amazing and talented group.  And I can try to pick my moments where I may get the chance to work on a specific design or bit of animation. Sort of scratch that creative and artistic itch as often as I can by doing the lion’s share of the designing myself on even a smaller portion of the work.  That’s always fun.

 

 What is the most difficult part for you about being in the business?
Production schedules can sometimes work against you when it comes to putting in 110 percent in terms of quality. I hate to see work that I know can be better, and I’m not a big fan of cutting corners. I do believe that if you work intelligently and budget your time that you can always do work that is above and beyond. It can be a tough dance when balancing quality against efficiency, but I never like to see the level of the work suffer. There’s always a way to make the work sparkle, but it takes initiative. There’s really no room for laziness in animation and there’s pretty much no excuse for poor quality, in my opinion. Of course you need to cut your cloth according to time and budget, but quality can always be achieved with planning and diligent work, in my opinion. It’s tough for me to leave it alone if I know the work can be better. Not to overwork anything, but just to make sure that you’re exploring all the possibilities, and that you’ve given all of yourself. So I usually end up putting in extra (sometimes many extra) hours. My wife gets mad at me, but honestly she knows how important the work is to me. She puts up with it.  🙂  Ultimately, people won’t remember you for how many corners you cut, but for the quality and craftsmanship that you put into the work. That, and how you treat and get along with people. If you ask me, those are the two most important things in our business.

What kind of technology do you work with on a daily basis?
I always have the pencils, Sharpies and paper at the ready!  I really like to use the technical pencils with the refillable leads.  For me, everything needs to start outside the computer with some kind of drawing, sketching, thumbnails… I love Post-It notes, especially!  It’s important for me to always have that tactile, organic approach to the work, even if it’s going to end up in the computer. Just work rough, get some ideas down, then work it up in layers.  On the tech side, I work with a Mac, Wacom tablet and Flash (I still prefer version CS3), mostly. Some Photoshop and Illustrator are also always in the mix. I really need to get a Cintiq monitor at home, too. I a very overdue on that front!

 

In your travels, have you had any brushes with animation greatness?
My wife and I got a chance to chat with Eric Goldberg a few years ago, which was very cool. I had a chance to do a little work with the ultra-talented Chuck Gammage up in Canada, too!  Hope to do more work with him down the line.  Also, working for Darrell Van Citters at Renegade Animation. That guy is an amazing talent, and Renegade is one of those animation shops that produces work with so much integrity. There is a real and tangible commitment to a quality product there, and it’s always fun to be a part of. I appreciate the opportunities I’ve had to work with them. Would still love to meet Tony Fucile, Richard Williams, Chris Applehans, Bill Watterson, Doug Tenapel, Ralph Bakshi, Ed Catmull… the list goes on and on and on. On the ‘wish I could have met them list’ … Vaughn Bode, Freddie Moore and Pablo Picasso, for sure.

Describe a tough situation you had in life.
Early on, while I was still in school for animation, I was really torn about where I wanted to end up. Was I going to ship off to the West coast, or try to make a go of an animation career in New York?  I really wrestled with it, with some tempting job possibilities on one side of the country but most of my friends and family in New York and along the East coast. I just remember being so stressed over it!  Then I met a girl one day, and everything lined up just right and the answers fell into place. It couldn’t have worked out any better. I get a chance to live out the career I’ve always wanted, and I have an amazing family to come home to each night. Pretty cool stuff.

Any side projects or you’re working on or hobbies you’d like to share details of?
I am working on a short animated film that I really hope to have completed by the summer. The idea keeps growing, but I am challenging myself to just keep it simple. If it turns out reasonably well, I can always build upon it with subsequent films.  Besides that, I am always drawing and painting. Trying to make a better effort to do more artwork for friends and family, too. Especially stuff for my two kids. Would also love to try my hand at a Children’s book. I love to write, and I never get a chance to flex those muscles, so that would be a lot of fun. Also going to build a little stop-motion set up in our new house, so I can experiment a bit with stop-motion animation and also have a nice camera stand for pencil tests and cut paper animation, which I’d love to get into. I’d like to see how far I can push that particular style of animation, and just working away from the computer on more tactile stuff seems so appealing to me right now. Just to experiment and have fun.  My wife, Helene, and I are also working on a new blog where once a month we both do an illustration based on the same theme/idea. We’d like to collaborate and grow our art into a really cool paper goods company, creating books, greeting cards, prints, posters, paper dolls etc. but that may take some time. We have a lot of fun planning it and talking about it, though!  🙂  Other than that, I still really enjoy riding my skateboard. Besides my family, skateboarding is one of the most important parts of who I am, it’s just woven into my fabric. It’s been a part of me for so many years now… Like art, I guess it’s shaped me a little bit. Plus, it’s my sole physical outlet (besides chasing around my kids) so it keeps me healthy!

Any unusual talents or hobbies like tying a cherry stem with your tongue or metallurgy?
No unusual hobbies, really. If I could pick one really unusual hobby to pursue I’d pick something awesome though, like collecting socks or something. Nobody collects socks, so I’d be able to get all the best ones. See, no competition with that hobby!

 Is there any advice you can give for an aspiring animation student or artist trying to break into the business? 
 It can be a difficult business, so don’t lose touch with why you pursued this career in the first place… because you LOVE it. Don’t let the deadlines and the stressful parts take the joy out of it, keep it fun and hold onto your passion for the craft of animation.  A big part of a successful career is how you treat people and how you carry yourself, so always remember that, too. Treat people fairly, be helpful, take the time to help people who are trying to get a first break… It’s really important.  I would also advise to take the time to learn about everybody’s role on a production, so you can get an even better understanding of the process and how you fit into the team. Do your best work, always. And stay inspired!  There is SO much out there to ingest in terms of art, and be sure to look outside of the animation world, too.  To me, your legacy is formed around the work that you do and what kind of person you are. I always try to keep in mind, and that there’s always room for improvement. Most of all, just have fun!

www.daganm.blogspot.com

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