What is your name and your current occupation?
My name is Isaac Marzioli and I’m a digital design clean-up artist on Tuff Puppy at Nickelodeon.
What are some of the crazier jobs you had before getting into animation?
I’ve had a few. Two of the craziest were when I was just shy of 20 and still trying to figure out what I wanted to do as a career. I answered an ad in the paper (before newspapers went extinct) and ended up in an interview where I agreed to sell knives door to door. That didn’t last long because the idea of walking into a stranger’s house and pulling out sharp knives sounded sketchy…so I went one worse and started selling perfume in parking lots. There’s nothing like approaching a random stranger, pulling a bottle out of your bag and asking if you could squirt them with it. It was this job that taught me that school was very important. I came home after a long day of chasing weirdos around an ATM parking lot and enrolled into Cal State Fullerton – more specifically, into the illustration program. And then to get myself through school (and after I graduated, but before I was able to land a job in the industry) I sold ladies’ shoes. The Al Bundy jokes weren’t the worst of it – I couldn’t believe what people would tell me about their feet. Or show me. This one lady had a fuzzy green square on the bottom of her foot that she wanted me to touch. Then the smells. There’s nothing like a hot summer day for people to come in and take their shoes off…So I’m really glad to be working in animation.
What are some of your favorite projects you’re proud to have been a part of?
It’s been great to be a part of the Butch Hartman cartoons. It’s a little pandering, but it’s hard to stay employed in the animation business. Shows don’t last forever, and cancellation usually comes as a surprise. Being on Fairly Odd Parents, Danny Phantom and now Tuff Puppy – I’ve been employed steadily for the last 10 and a half years.
Where are you from and how did you get into the animation business?
I’m originally from Northern California – and I came down here to go to school at CSUF. I hung out with a lot of animation students. In our junior year they set up a meeting with a storyboard revisionist on Angry Beavers and I tagged along. I was blown away at how amazing and fun Nickelodeon looked. The artist gave us a tour of the studio and a demonstration of what his job entailed. I knew then that I had to get into animation. In my last semester I interned at Nickelodeon on Dora the Explorer. I met a lot of people – one of them being Chris Robertson who, at the time, was a storyboard artist on Hey Arnold. My internship ended and I went on to the glorious world of selling ladies shoes. A couple of years later Chris moved on to board on Fairly Odd Parents. The show needed another clean-up artist and he recommended me. Having no previous animation experience, Bob Boyle (the art director) and George Goodchild (the design supervisor) were nice enough to give me my first job.
What’s a typical day like for you with regards to your job?
I have a list of layouts, characters and props that the designers have drawn. My job isn’t about tracing but using the lines the designers have put down as a guideline to clean up the drawings in the style of the show. And some adjustments have to be made when thick and/or thin lines are added. My job is to get through as many designs as possible because we have a short deadline and another show looming.
What part of your job do you like best? Why?
I’ve always enjoyed a clean simple line – and Adobe Illustrator is the perfect program for this style. Each line is perfect (with the use of the pen tool). Working as a clean-up artist has helped my own artwork. I like to funnel all of my artwork through Adobe Illustrator – even if I paint in Photoshop, I like having a crisp vector line.
What part of your job do you like least? Why?
I’ve done some promotional clean-up and color for the show and for comic con. My artwork is what is printed and used. What I haven’t liked (but there’s no way around it) is that on the show our clean-up is used as reference for overseas. And because it’s traditionally animated, the lines are hand drawn and sometimes too thick. The lines end up being rough and tangents abound! The shows still look great when they’re finished, but because I work on clean-up I tend to focus on that aspect.
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?
The job has changed over the years. I was talking to a co-worker who has been in the industry for decades. She said that before computers, our entire building would have been just ink and paint for our show. Obviously computers revolutionized what can be done in animation as well as speeding up the process. And Adobe Illustrator made clean-up terribly easy. One can mimic any style. On Fairly Odd Parents we used a thick outside line, and a thin inside line. On Tuff Puppy we’re using more thick and thin lines and a lot of tapering. I did freelance on The Replacements for Disney where we created a series of proprietary brushes to simulate a rough pencil line. The work can be done quicker and easily. It’s nice to have a ctrl-z/apple-z to undo a mistake rather than reaching for the electric eraser.
What is the most difficult part for you about being in the business?
I think one of the most difficult things is uncertainty of employment. I’m currently on Tuff Puppy. The show has done quite well and we’re almost through two seasons. We’ve even got part of the third season picked up, but that only means we’re guaranteed to be employed through this next summer. Execs aren’t usually in the position to share all the details of how a show is doing, so cancellation and layoffs are always a surprise. My wife and I are looking to the future and thinking about starting a family and it’s a little daunting not knowing how long we’ll be employed.
In your travels, have you had any brushes with animation greatness?
When I was at Cal State Fullerton my animation friends were in the”The Pencil Mileage Club.” They brought in Glen Vilppu to give a seminar one Saturday. I was helping with the setup when he pulled up in his car. I hopped in the passenger seat to direct him to the parking lot and knocked over a tin of cookies on the floor. I thought my ‘brush with greatness’ would end with ruining Vilppu’s afternoon snack. But opportunity presented itself again at the end of the seminar. Vilppu was answering questions and while I can’t remember the question I asked, I had him demonstrate in my sketchbook. He sketched three students and then signed his name at the bottom of the page.
Describe a tough situation you had in life.
I’d have to say the toughest thing was getting into the animation industry in the first place. I mentioned above that I interned on Dora the Explorer. As my internship was nearing completion I was in talks with the recruiter who said she’d get me a test from this production and another from that production. At the same time the production team said they were impressed with me on Dora and they wanted to extend my internship through the summer. It would have been an internship that focused more on art and less on photocopying. Thinking I was close to landing a real job, I turned down the second internship. About a week after my internship ended I showed up at the recruiter’s office with my portfolio in hand. She told me that because I wasn’t an intern anymore I would have to just drop off my portfolio at the front desk like everyone else. I went from thinking I was days from employment to seemingly having no prospects. It took two years of drawing and refining my portfolio before I was able to finally break into the industry. It was tough, but it was a good learning experience.
Any side projects you’re working on that you’d like to share details of?
My wife and I are working on animation pitches. Not many people get to have a cartoon made out of their ideas. So while we don’t expect too much, it’s been fun creating new characters and stories. We’re also starting up our own character brand we named Happy Pantry. We have been fans of kawaii and wanted to explore our own version of that style. We’ve created a large cast of cute characters with a kitchen theme. You can find most of them on their facebook page. We’re currently figuring out what kind of merchandise we want to apply them to at which point we’ll open an online store.
Any unusual talents or hobbies like tying a cherry stem with your tongue or metallurgy?
No. And mind your own business.
Is there any advice you can give for an aspiring animation student or artist trying to break into the business?
Explore your opportunities. Have people (hopefully someone with experience in the industry) look at your portfolio. Welcome feedback and critique. Try to get an internship. It’s important to network. If the person in charge knows you, that might be the difference between getting hired and passed over. Think about taking a job as a production assistant just to get your foot in the door. Part of the production assistant’s job is talking to the artists. You can use this as a chance to network as well as learn about the different art jobs. Figure out which job you want and tailor your portfolio to that. If you’re looking for design work, your portfolio should be stacked with designs. If it’s color work, then have a lot of color. Explore different styles, and if you can try to draw in the style of the show you’re applying for. Sometimes they don’t just want to know that you can draw, but whether you can draw in the style of their show. Once you get in you should never stop learning. Never stop drawing. The more you know and the more you can do will help you stay employed. And always network! You never know who will be able to help you get your next job.