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.
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 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.
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?