What is your name and your current occupation?
Ted StearnÂ Director Beavis and Butthead
What are some of the crazier jobs you had before getting into animation?
No “crazy” jobs! Just dull ones. I used to do paste up and mechanicals for advertising and publishing. Yawn.
What are some of your favorite projects you’re proud to have been a part of?
I drew storyboards for a little known show for Cartoon Network, called “Squirrel Boy.” I had a lot of creative freedom and enjoyed being able to work with the writers on the story. It was very satisfying to create an entire chase scene, for example, without specific direction from the script. I think storyboard artists should be trusted to integrate more of their visual ideas by actually working with writers and not just be confined to following a script to the letter. Â I also enjoyed directing Beavis and Butthead, because these are two characters who are actually funny. When I can get them to do physical humor, it’s great fun. The new shows that will be coming out are a bit more complex than those early shows.
How did you become interested in animation?
I was a fine art major, and even went back to graduate school in fine art, but I started getting into drawing my own comics, which made the transition to animation a little less abrupt.
Where are you from and how did you get into the animation business?
I lived in New York for most of my adult life. I was a latecomer to animation- I did not get my first job until I was 34. A friend of mine who worked at MTV Animation told me they were looking for storyboard artists, so I showed them my sketchbook and my comics, and I was hired as a storyboard revisionist for Beavis and Butthead. I probably could not have gotten hired if it had been a more sophisticated show!
What’s a typical day like for you with regards to your job?
As a storyboard artist, I spend a lot of time drawing on a cintique, with the script and designs in front of me. Sometimes I have to meet with the director and the supervising director to go over my thumbnails and make necessary changes. Â As a director, I spend more time coordinating my ideas with the design department. I look over the storyboards and make necessary revision notes. When I have time I draw out some thumbs for storyboard artists for specific sections. And I give specific directions to the timer, and review them when I get the exposure sheets back from the timer.
What part of your job do you like best? Why?
I like being paid to draw and I love the art of film, so it’s nice to get paid to do it.
What part of your job do you like least? Why?
I don’t like working on scripts have formulaic plots and uninteresting characters, but that seems to come with television shows sometimes. I don’t like it when I have to draw what I consider ugly character designs, because I have to do it many, many times when storyboarding.
What is the most difficult part for you about being in the business?
Finding steady work!
What kind of technology do you work with on a daily basis?
I work with Storyboard Pro on a Cintique almost exclusively.
In your travels, have you had any brushes with animation greatness?
It’s been interesting working with Mike Judge and Matt Groening, I get to see how show creators work and think.
Describe a tough situation you had in life.
I would say…. a couple of years ago, I simply could not find work. I was on unemployment for a long time, and it was affecting me in a bad way, I was very nervous about money. I was taking many storyboard tests, and I even took a test for a show that I had already worked on. I couldn’t get a hold of anyone to confirm that I could e exempt from a test. They said I had to take a test because the show no longer had layout artists (as is the case everywhere nowadays.) Imagine having to prove yourself as if you were a newcomer, though you were not. This is why it is so important to network with friends and let everyone know your status. It’s much more difficult to get a job from the outside. And save, save, save, because you will get laid off, if not sooner, then later. Be prepared.
Any side projects you’re working on you’d like to share details of?
I draw and write my own comics, it’s called “Fuzz and Pluck.” You can find it online at my website tedstearn.com, or go to my publisher’s site, fantagraphics.com, and look up my name under “artists.” It’s about a teddy bear and a plucked chicken and their adventures. I think it is important to always have one’s own projects in the works, it helps balance out working under others’ ideas. With my own work, I have complete freedom to do what I want. I’d like to think of myself as an auteur, and I want to stay that way!
Is there any advice you can give for an aspiring animation student or artist trying to break into the business?
Before you apply for a job: Â 1) Try an internship if possible. Nothing beats it for getting your foot in the door, and seeing the industry from the inside. (I wish I did it!!) Â 2) Make sure you have the strongest portfolio possible. Show it to your friends and/or teachers and ask their honest opinion. Â 3) Learn as much as you can about the craft of animation. Find the experts and learn from them any way you can. Â 4) Be familiar with the software that is used in your area of interest. Although, animation savvy is more important than software knowhow, in my opinion. Â 5) Try to meet people in the industry, and don’t be afraid to ask for their advice and help. That said, connections to people in the industry is important, but if you don’t have the chops, it still won’t get you where you want to be.