What is your name and your current occupation?
My name is Jeff Victor and I work as an illustrator/designer for Nickelodeon Games. I work as an art lead on a online game called PetPet Park, designing characters, backgrounds, props, and more.
What are some of the crazier jobs you had before getting into animation?
I’ve worked many mundane jobs in my life, but one that is really pretty special to me is when I first moved to Los Angeles, I got work as a background performer, or “extra”. As I was unsuccessfully submitting my portfolio to studios, I made my living as a student/doctor/terrified pedestrian/casual onlooker, etc. I appeared in hundreds of TV shows and movies. As a huge film buff, it was incredible being on set watching some of my favorite directors work. You only earn a tiny paycheck, but being on set with Steven Spielberg or Martin Scorsese was a priceless experience. My other craziest job was working a few years at Universal Studios Hollywood. I was a show tech, which basically meant I had to set the stage explosives, hook the actors to their flying rigs, move set pieces around on stage, and in the case of Fear Factor Live, handle giant scorpions. All in a day’s work.
What are some of your favorite projects you’re proud to have been a part of?
I am extremely proud of the work I’ve been doing for Nickelodeon. I enjoy that people all over the world have seen my work. I also really enjoyed some of the stints I had as a character designer at Warner Bros animation, and at East/West DVD, where I got to draw DVD covers for classic cartoons. It was my first real job in animation, and I am really proud of the work, even though it looks incredibly dated to my eyes today. (Of course, things I drew 3 weeks ago look dated to me, but that’s another story…)
Where are you from and how did you get into the animation business?
I’m from the Chicago suburbs, and after receiving the “Art of Star Wars” book as a youngster, I knew I wanted to be an artist. I was obsessed with comic books and cartoons as a kid, especially Batman the Animated Series. I filled my grade school notebooks with painfully unfunny 3-panel cartoons, and fan art for my favorite comics. I went to University of Kansas, where I learned foundation skills like life drawing, but was told my my fine art teacher my work was too “cartoony”, in a negative way. I got a job at Hallmark Cards right after college drawing cute, fuzzy animal type stuff, but it wasn’t until the winter of 2000, that I got a DVD player and watched the special features on the Toy Story Ultimate Toy Box DVD collection. Suddenly, my eyes were wide open, as I saw the animation industry as not just some unattainable thing, but as an actual career possibility. I quit my job at Hallmark and moved to LA. It took over six years to get any kind of steady work as an artist, but my hard work and persistence paid off, and now I’m making a living doing what I love.
What’s a typical day like for you with regards to your job?
I usually get my day’s assignments and draw whatever they need for the day. It varies from day to day; sometimes I’m drawing characters, others I’m designing props in isometric perspective.
What part of your job do you like best? Why?
The deadlines aren’t as hectic as they are with television, which is nice. Our work schedule is pretty flexible, which is tremendously helpful in regards to my stress levels.
What part of your job do you like least? Why?
Like any art job, sometimes you have to draw things you really don’t like drawing, or have a hard time with. Personally, my weak area has always been vehicles (cars, trains, etc). But you have to dive in sometimes, and hope that it comes out well.
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?
When I first started at Nick, we were working on Wacom tablets, then after a year or so, they bought us all Cintiq tablets, which was incredible. I liked it so much, I bought one for home use, and now it’s my preferred way of working. I use the 24″ Cintiq, which allows a great deal of room to draw.
What is the most difficult part for you about being in the business?
I always feel like with any good thing, sometimes it comes to an end quicker than you would like. Jobs end suddenly, and it’s hard to be let go, or watch good friends be let go.
In your travels, have you had any brushes with animation greatness?
I am in a good position to meet the animation masters, since I live in LA, and attend CTN and Comic Con. Over the years, I have met a lot of my idols like Glen Keane, Peter DeSeve, Pete Doctor, Henry Selick, Bill Pressing, Bruce Timm…well, you get the picture. The list goes on and on. Facebook is a nice way to stay in touch with some of these great artists as well, and let them know you appreciate their work.
Describe a tough situation you had in life.
Starting out, it was really tough to find art jobs that paid. I can’t tell you how many jobs I did for people that promised to pay me and never did. About 10 years ago, just having arrived in LA, I designed a whole animated show for a semi-famous actor/comedian who promised once he sold the show, I’d get 50% of the take and get to be the lead character designer. I didn’t know any better, so I believed him. Months went by, and I heard he actually sold the show to a cable network. Excited, I tried calling him for weeks, but none of my calls were returned. I finally ran into this guy again, and asked if he ever intended to pay me. He said he spent the money already and had nothing left to give. Since this guy was my friend at the time, I never thought of signing any contract. My mistake. Getting screwed over in this business is pretty common, but it always stings, because it always seems to happen when you are the most desperate.
Any side projects you’re working on that you’d like to share details of?
I do a lot of work on my blog that I hope people enjoy. I am working on a series of tributes to bad movies, calling it “Classics of Crap”, as well as my “Evolution” series, which has gotten quite popular online.
Any unusual talents or hobbies like tying a cherry stem with your tongue or metallurgy?
I can do a handstand for about a second before falling over.
Is there any advice you can give for an aspiring animation student or artist trying to break into the business? There isn’t really any advice I can give that hasn’t been said by people much more knowledgeable than I, but I guess all I can say is stick with your art. Unless you are an artistic genius who flies out of art school right into Pixar, it’s really tough to find work. Don’t give up. Make connections with social media sites. Have a blog that people can see. Post on a tumblr. Be productive. Don’t just draw when you feel like it. Try to draw something every day. Get your work out there, because you never know who’s going to see it. It might be the person who wants to hire you. Most importantly- draw what you like. Play to your strengths, while developing skills to draw the things you aren’t that good at. Being a working artist, you will invariably be tasked to draw something that you have no interest in- but if you have a good foundation in perspective, anatomy, and caricature, you can pretty much draw anything they throw at you. Good luck!