Tom Riffel


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What is your name and your current occupation?
My name is Tom Riffel, and currently I am working freelance, in addition to being a co-founder / content creator of the Toonocracy collective.

What are some of the crazier jobs you had before getting into animation? 
Most of my non-animation experience was either slinging coffee or slinging data. Well, entering data. Neither one super crazy, but I did have one data entry job where I was inputting the personal information of women prisoners into what was supposed to be a prison pen-pal website. Needless to say, some of this information was, ah… Highly inappropriate, despite their surveys specifically saying not to include anything R-rated. Also, at the coffee shop, people liked using the walls as toilet paper. Not really sure how that works.

What are some of your favorite projects you’re proud to have been a part of? 
I’m very fortunate to say that I have been pretty consistently happy with most of the projects I have been on, but my absolute favorite job was working on The Problem Solverz at Cartoon Network. Cartoon Network is my goal, and being able to work on a series produced entirely in-house and with really great people was a dream come true.  A close second would be the last non-freelance job I had, which was at Hot House Productions, working on a pilot. Like The Problem Solverz, it was all done in-house with a small crew of great people.

Where are you from and how did you get into the animation business?
I grew up in South Florida, but didn’t do anything animation-related until I moved to Chicago. Initially I wanted to be a director, so I went to Florida Atlantic University for film studies and ended up with a useless BA in communication. After an aimless year, I went back to school for animation. Post graduation (Part 2), I was able to get a job doing animation for an internet startup company, and then moved on to doing some digital animation and traditional clean up for Calabash Animation. A few years later, I took the plunge and moved to Los Angeles.

What’s a typical day like for you with regards to your job?
Currently, I wake up, make the long trek from the bedroom to my office, and get crackin’ on work in silence. When I’m working at a studio, I wake up, make the long trek from the bedroom to the studio, get crackin’ jokes with co-workers, put the headphones on, and get crackin’ on work in silence.

What part of your job do you like best? Why? 
I love working together and collaborating with other talented people. I find it much more enriching than working freelance at home alone. I just love being part of a team, especially a small one. I also really like seeing things go from words on a page to the finished animation.

What part of your job do you like least? Why?
Probably just knowing in the back of my mind that a show can end for any reason and at any time. It’s tough to let go of that thought. It’s also extremely stressful to see that more and more jobs are going overseas.

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 Flash almost exclusively. I love Flash, and I’ve used pretty much every version from MX2004 up to CS5.5, though not necessarily in that order. In the past, I’ve used Toon Boom Harmony and regular paper. I also use After Effects and Premiere when the situation calls for it.

What is the most difficult part for you about being in the business?
Like most people, I feel that the always looming question of where the next job is coming from is the hardest part of the industry. A close second would be the negative perception that many have about Flash animation. With the right workflow, you can do anything in Flash, but some still see it as inferior animation.

In your travels, have you had any brushes with animation greatness?
I don’t generally place anyone on a pedestal, I just want to meet and work with cool people. So, at every job, I have brushes with greatness. Most people in the industry are really awesome and talented and helpful, and that’s pretty great. I did work with Greg Miller, who created one of my favorite shows, Whatever Happened to Robot Jones?, and worked on a bunch of other shows I really enjoy. He’s a great guy. Also, one time I talked to Don Hahn for ten minutes. He was nice.


Describe a tough situation you had in life. 
Making the move out here was pretty tough. I didn’t know too many people, and I had no idea where to go to find work. I sent my stuff out everyday but nothing was really happening at the time. I was working from home doing data entry to pay the bills, so I generally wouldn’t leave the house. I was just really unhappy. Luckily, I got a job within a few months, so all that disappeared just as quickly as it came.
Any side projects you’re working on that you’d like to share details of?
As I mentioned, I am a co-founder of the Toonocracy collective. It was started by a handful of animators and storyboard artists as a sort of “playground” to do our own shows. Currently, there are four shows, including my own, Sausage School, which I like to think of as an absurd deconstruction of the process, though I might just be thinking too hard about it.  We are currently halfway through our first season, and we are partnering up with big Youtube channels to get our name out there so that when we start on season 2, we will have a lot more people watching our awesome shows. Stay tuned for my next planet-smashing show!  In addition to Toonocracy, I’m currently developing a few shows to pitch around with some of my friends, in addition to my own pitches.
Any unusual talents or hobbies like tying a cherry stem with your tongue or metallurgy?
I like cooking weird food. Ketchup rice, anyone? How about alfredo lasagna? I also really like watching Let’s Plays on Youtube. For anyone who doesn’t know, that’s when people record themselves playing video games and talking about it. Thrilling. My favorites are HCBailly and EpicNameBro. Although, I guess watching stuff on the internet isn’t really a talent.
Is there any advice you can give for an aspiring animation student or artist trying to break into the business? 
It’s easy to get discouraged, but that doesn’t mean you should give up. There will always be someone better and there will always be someone worse. Just do your best, keep improving, and learn from those around you.  Actively maintain friendships after a production ends. The industry is full of awesome people.  And lastly, if no one is interested in your idea, make it on your own.

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One Comment

  1. Tom, As you said that if no one likes your stuff enough, create it yourself…can you tell me what the costs of doing animation are like? I was reading that even in SE Asia, where most commercial animation is done, it is measured in cost-per-second. (Yipes). Is flash much more affordable?


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