Ron Doucet specializes in bringing characters to life, ever since he started working in the animation industry back in 1999. Ron spends most of his time as a director for animated television series, short films, and commercials. He also performs production supervision roles, teaches workshops, and is a frequent speaker in conferences and seminars for colleges and festivals.
Ron's been working in the animation industry for 15 years now, and he directed over 400 episodes of television animation, including productions for Cartoon Network (Teen Titan Go), BBC, Nickelodeon, Warner Brothers, Teletoon, and YTV.
Ron currently lives in Halifax, Canada, working as an Animation Director at Copernicus Studios.
Thank you very much Ron Doucet for this interview, we would like to start with you by telling us about yourself?
I'm an Animation Director at Copernicus Studios in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. I began my career at the prestigious Collideascope Digital Animation Studios, one of the first companies to ever produce broadcast-quality traditional animation by exclusively using Flash software.
I've been working in the Industry since 1999, and I've been very lucky in the sense that I've had very little down-time, or maybe that's a bad thing, I'm not sure. But I've been constantly employed, and I've had the pleasure of hiring and working with hundreds of different animators over the years. Currently I'm directing animation on the top rated Cartoon Network series "Teen Titans GO!" for Warner Bros.
What do you love to do when you're not animating? Any hobbies? Extra passions?
Not really much of anything. If you're in animation or visual effects, it completely consumes your life, there's zero time for anything else. If you're someone working in animation and you DO have a life outside of work with hobbies and stuff (hanging out with Family doesn't count)... please contact me, and let me know your secrets! From 2006-2008 I was doing my own puppet shows
I've always had a passion for all things Muppets, and one day I bought some random-looking puppets off of Ebay, from a guy who used to work for Sesame Street. That's what started my addiction with making my own characters and shows.
Now that I have a family of my own, it's tough to find the spare time to make my own shows again, sometimes I've put some shorts and episodes up in the internets and made workshops for kids over the years. Someday, I hope to get back into it. Maybe in 15 years, when my kids are off to college.
How do you summaries the growing up part and how does it involve animation in general?
Playing with Lego, Hot Wheels, Transformers, G.I. Joe and of course watching television cartoons... CONSTANTLY!
Reading comic strips, doodling on chalk boards and bristle board in school, and obsessing over all things animated was my childhood. I was that quiet skinny little nerd sitting in the corner during recess, just drawing gross monsters and nuclear-powered robots.
Growing up, did you draw a lot? What style of art did you like the most?
I drew constantly. I'd get in trouble in school for doodling all over my text books and scribblers and note pads, always day-dreaming, always sketching, never listening in class.
I started my own comic strip in 7th grade, it was one-off panels, on full sheets of paper, it took me two years but finally got to my goal of 100 comics, it was the first long term goal I had set out for myself and completed. A couple years later I would re-design the characters and had a short run in a local newspaper.
I was even born with a pencil in hand, here's the photographic evidence:
In my early childhood; Dik Browne's "Hagar The Horrible", Mike Peters' "Mother Goose and Grimm", and Jim Davis' "Garfield" were the styles I started to love and re-create, they were easy for me to copy and emulate. Still today, I see hints of these graphic elements in my own work when I just do my own rough sketches.
Later on, at the start of high school; the artists of MAD magazine were a fantastic addition to me education, artists like Serios Arahones, Al Jaffee, and the gross detailed works of Basil Wolvertion, and then the awesome caricaturing styles of Mort Drucker and Jack Davis. These artists' techniques are the ones I would endlessly try to absorb and re-create on my own.
Watching animated cartoons were definitely my main sources of inspiration. The Flintstones, Yogi Bear, Huckleberry Hound, Quick Draw McGraw, George of the Jungle, Beetle-juice, He-Man, G.I. Joe, Ghostbusters, Teddy Ruxpin, Smurfs, The Pink Panther, Inspector Gadget, Transformers, Darkwing Duck, and Astro-boy were all shows that I would watch, and draw my own versions on paper.
But all these series came and went for brief periods during my childhood consciousness, the one show that was there consistently throughout my childhood straight through to college years and beyond, was the Looney Tunes and Merry Melodies.
Chuck Jones and Friz Freleng were my favorites, even at a very young age I had committed their names to memory and when I'd see their title credits come up - I knew these would be the ones I would love. I'd admire and study their cartoons the most, and still to this day; for their pacing, posing, acting, characterizations, and overall great comedic timing and storytelling sensibilities.
Did you have a favorite film or cartoon that influenced you in your teens?
When I was 13, Don Bluth's "Secret of NIMH" was a big eye-opener, maybe not in art style, but it cracked open my mind to what animated films could be in terms of dark, moody atmosphere. So much deeper and more sophisticated in terms of character development, narrative, and concept... compared to the usual Disney stuff that I was used to.
Furthermore, Katsuhiro Otomo's "Akira" left a permanent imprint on my brain when I was 16 years old. It's a film like that tends to rip opens your eyes to the endless possibilities of what an animated film can be, more mature, more detailed, more realistic, with very layered and in-depth storytelling.
Similarly, with reading Alan Moore's 'Watchmen' for the first time, or seeing Ridley Scott's 'Bladerunner', or even watching 'The Muppet Show', they were all using their craft and medium in ways that were unique and phenomenally creative in their own ways.
Whether it was for complex narratives, cool live-action sci-fi, or hilariously comedic character puppetry, these books, films, and shows were so different from all their peers at the time.
John Kricfalusi's Ren & Stimpy completely destroyed my brain, and shattered whatever I thought I knew about what television animation had to be. It was "animated cartoons" personified to its purest and most extreme form.
When I was 16, that series changed the way I drew cartoons, it was the first, most defining moment in my teens that cemented my love for character animation, and solidified my quest to learn how to create some.
Where did you go to learn the art of Animation? Which School was it? And when?
The community college in Truro, Nova Scotia, Canada.
We were a small class in a course called Digital Animation.
It was a two-year program that was half 3D modeling and animation, and half classical animation training.
I didn't have much interest in the 3D & CG aspects of the course, so I took it upon myself to specialize in classical animation. For two years, I drew day and night, pencil testing as often as I could, exploring and experimenting the craft of timing and spacing.
When and where did you realize that you wanted to become an Animator?
I took a two year of Graphic Design course and I still wasn't convinced what career path to take, I had been drawing cartoons since I was a toddler, yet always assumed I would never get into an fine arts school or animation college.
I saw an ad for a new course being taught at a community college, months later I went to visit and I saw the 2D animation instructor drawing and flipping paper at a light table with an animation disc, I was hooked!
I applied, got accepted, and after I had just finished my first year of the animation course, Peter Labelle, my animation teacher, invited me and another classmate to do a small presentation in the movie theater for the premiere of "A Bug's Life".
My classmate and I were more 2D eccentric, so we setup our animation tables and I was working on my own animation of some characters doing silly nonsense, we had a pencil test machine and a computer setup, and we were just sitting there in the hallway while people passed by and peaked over our shoulders to see what we were doing.
Ironically "Rugrats The Movie" had premiered a week or two before and it was still going strong, here we were sitting outside the theater drawing cartoons on peg-bars and an ocean of kids poured out of the Rugrats cinema and they all gathered around us to look at what we were doing.
Thank goodness the Rugrats movie poster was hanging up on a wall just in front of me, because I got dozens of requests for drawing Rugrats characters from all the kids. I had never watched the show before, but I had good reference to go from.
Once the dust settled and the big crowd of kids dissipated. One 3 year-old little boy came to me and I showed him my big stack of paper from the personal project I was working on.
I set it up in my hands and flipped through the stack, it showed a guy morphing into a monster. He reared his head back and began to laugh uncontrollably.
Then came a 10-year old girl, she was shy and she made a Rugrats character sketch request, then I showed her the same 120 page stack of drawing I did, flipped it in front of her eyes, and I saw her mind being blown.
She was completely astonished and flabbergasted; it was like she was witnessing magic right before her eyes, the character was coming to life in my hands. It must be the high that magicians and illusionists get, because that solidified things in my head, I knew I wanted to be animator.
Did you have a natural talent or did you have to develop the skills do draw and animate?
I definitely wouldn't call it 'talent', but I had a burning desire to draw constantly ever since the age of 3. My mom and grandmother couldn't keep typewriter paper in the house, I'd find it and use it to doodle on constantly.
My whole childhood the floor of my bedroom was blanketed with layers upon layers of pages with sketches and comics. I don't think I ever was any good, and still now, I have a long way to go in learning the craft of animation.
At age 12, I started collecting hundred of my doodles and I'd stuff them in binders and clipboards. I sort of developed the skills of cartooning on my own, like any kid does, they just draw over and over and over again.
Some teachers in school would get angry at how much I'd draw on the back of tests, note pads ,and text books, others would be supportive and would let me draw up big murals of random funny faces, animals, and creatures on the chalkboards after school.
When I was in 2nd grade I discovered Garfield, I fell in love with that comic strip, and I would trace over the panels over and over again, until a while later at the age of 8, I realized I could draw Garfield in any expression or pose. I unknowingly discovered that I had stumbled upon a secret technique, by tracing over something enough times my hand would learn how to draw it freehand.
At least that was my logic at the time. But I realized that I would learn a lot from tracing and copying, and eventually I could learn many different styles in the same way. By observing and copying the comic book or comic strips until finally I could just create the poses and expressions of these characters straight out of my head.
Artists like Jim Davis, John Buscema, Mort Drucker, Milt Gross, Dik Browne, Hank Ketchman, Jack Kirby, Chuck Jones, Harvey Kurtzman, Owen Fitzgerald, George Clark, and Jack Davis. I would copy they're work thousands of times, from comic books, comic strips fro the newspaper and magazines.
I would watch Looney Tunes cartoons on TV and I would speed draw the scenes on my little chalkboard, not knowing I was essentially retro-boarding the shots for those shorts!
My first time being exposed to MAD magazines was when I was 9 years old, I hung out in my Aunt's house one afternoon, I wandered into my cousin's bedroom in the top floor/attic and I found a stack of MAD magazines, and I was hooked, so many art styles, adult humor, crazy cartoons, it was like a drug!
All those comic books, and televisions cartoons, I was constantly engrossed in them all the time. My appetite for Marvel, DC, MAD comics and TV cartoons in all shapes and forms was endless.
What was your first job you ever worked on? How did you get it at first? Do you remember the day you got employed?
First thing I ever worked on was a demo/pilot for Nicktoon's Jerk Chicken. The show never got picked up but it was the ultimate trial-by-fire. I didn't know Flash all that well and I was thrown into some fairly difficult scenes and I had never done production animation before. It was madness, stressful, and fun, all at the same time.
It's interesting how I got the job, a former classmate of mine had already been working at the studio for a few months, it had been 6 months since I had graduated and I was scouring the internet for jobs anywhere in Canada (the internet being much smaller in 1999 compared to today).
My classmate emails me one night and asks if I was working yet, because they had started this short 3 minute pilot episode, and they needed help to finish it. The director was based in New York and was hitting them with big revisions. I hopped on the next bus to Halifax.
When I arrived, I still needed to show off my portfolio and demo reel. In entered Sean Scott (Doodlez, Jimmy Two Shoes), he looked at my reel says "yeah pretty good, you start today". I was thrilled, and I was in way over my head.
He sits me down in front of a Mac with a tiny Wacom tablet and Flash 3 (not CS3, we're talking about 1999's Marcomedia version), and I start on my first scene, it took me 2 weeks to finish that 7 second scene, it was a learning experience like no other. We spent a couple more months on the production, re-animating it over and over again, I didn't know what I was doing, but I learned fast.
You have worked on so many animated projects, how does it feel to create so many animated shows for TV?
It feels great!
The standard in this industry is to move around from city to city and studio to studio, it's the nature of working in the film and television industry. You move to where the work is, cause no matter what - the job is never permanent; it's contract work.
Once the production ends you move on to another production. Sometimes in the same studio, but often times, you eventually have to move locations. It's rare to find a completely permanent position in any animation studio.
I've been insanely fortunate that I've only worked in two studios in the same one town for the past 15 years. I've worked for dozens of different companies, producers, broadcasters and clients, but I've never had change locations to do so.
Many animation artists and directors WANT to move and try out lots of different cities and studios through out their careers, and I would have done the same if I had to, but I've been lucky enough to stay in one town my whole career thus far.
It's been a blast working on so many different productions, from series, feature films and shorts, to broadcast television and online web series. It's a bit surreal. Recently I've had the pleasure to teach animation at local colleges and do lectures and workshops at seminars and festivals.
Every time I meet young students, they mention to me how they grew up watching the shows I directed. It's crazy that I unknowingly played a small tiny part in their inspiration to becoming animators.
What is your average day in regards to your job?
It varies from production to production, but as of this moment, my typical day consists of checking my inbox on our server and going through all the dailies. Providing notes on the key posing, timing, acting, in-between animation for all the shots and sequences that I've cast out to my crew.
This consists of doing draw-overs in the Flash files, correcting model issues, making retake notes and sketches based upon how to improve the model, the action, the spacing, and staying on-style within the established design and animation principles set by the producers of the show.
Other tasks (which happen every few weeks not daily), are elements such as developing schedules and budgets for upcoming productions, setting up production pipelines for new projects about to start, and meetings with the partners of the company and other supervisors and production managers in regards to human resources, production strategies, hiring and training of staff, and other similar studio-wide operations.
So a bit of everything, but my main daily focus is animation direction, scene planning, and crew management.
What part of your current job do you like best and why? What makes it so awesome in your eyes?
Over the years I've been split between the creative/artistic side of things and the human resources and production supervision side of things. Just when I think I'm favoring one side over the other, circumstances pushes me in the other direction, where ever I'm most needed.
I love aspects of both jobs. Supervising quality control on character and FX animation is very exciting; of course it taps into the creative side of things, especially when it's a very cool property. Also, developing specific production pipelines and recruiting staff has its own rewards too.
What are some of your favorite projects you're proud to have been a part of in your career?
Being a Producer and FX animator on the MSTRKRFT music video "Work On You" was one of the coolest productions I've been a part of. The project went so smoothly, we had total creative freedom and it was a very good and fun group of people working on it.
Also, my own short film "The Chase" was quite gratifying.
It was very spontaneous, with zero budget, a very tight deadline, limited resources, it was totally a labor of love, and I learned a lot from doing it.
Of course the series I'm currently working on is very delightful.
When a production has this high quality writing, storyboards, and voice acting like this, it makes it fun to come to work everyday.
Tell us about 'Copernicus Animation Studios', how did you end up working there? How was the transition from the previous company?
Copernicus is 11 years old now, they started off doing music videos, web-episodes, and educational shorts. Only in recent years did they fully embark into the fray of full-service production studio for animated series and feature film. They've always centered on high-quality animation work, mastering Flash and After-Effects as their main weapons of choice.
The transition to this studio was great. I had a one-year gap between the move from one studio to the other (where I was an Animation Instructor) and Copernicus started me off doing Storyboard Supervision; I believe it was sort of a feeling-out process on their part.
Then there was a Nicktoons production coming in where they needed a series director to supervise the in-house design and storyboard team and to direct the over-seas studios that were going to do the animation for us.
My experience on Johnny Test, helped to seal the deal since it was a bit of a similar style they were going for.
I had never before done remote-supervision for multiple studios located in Asia, but I dove in headfirst, it was an intense production, and I've been working here ever since.
What does your animation workflow look like while animating? Do you still use Animation Disc to this day? Tell us a little about the tools that you are using? What are your preferences? Methods? Plugins?
I don't use animation discs at all anymore, personally I've been digital since the very beginning on my career. Up until a few years ago I had certain designers and BG artists still using them, but they gradually converted all to digital.
I've been quite comfortable with the Intuos Wacom tablet for 15 years now. I classically animate in Flash, basically using it like digital paper. Since Flash is an instant pencil test machine I fell in love with it ever since I first got familiar with the program and the tablet as a tool.
Drawing frame-by frame, traditionally animating just as I would on paper is more cost-effective and efficient, plus you have the obvious advantages that comes with resolution independent vector art, and all the digital aspects that make the process so much faster.
The speed at which you can revise your own work (or someone else's) with any 2D CG tool (such as Flash, Toon Boom, TVPaint) really makes it a no-brainer for me. The only slight disadvantage is the line quality, which can be difficult to replicate in a computer-generated fashion, but there are ways around that too.
The awesome pencil-and-paper line is what gives classical animation so much of it's tactile charm and warmth, but as you can see with films like "Secret of Kells" and "Ernest and Celestine", the 2D CG line work of these digital animation software tools can still be made to look like that beautiful pencil or brush line.
Right now, my animation workflow is simple, I design and build models in Flash, I do color keys and full storyboard and animatics in Flash, I do my key posing, then breakdowns and inbetweens in Flash, and any and all background art, character and effects animation clean-up and paint in Flash.
Then I use After Effects to composite it all. Sometimes I use a bit of Photoshop to create some effects with the BGs or After Effects for color-correction and lighting FX that I otherwise can't pull off with Flash.
For the most part we create our own tools and plugins for Flash, with Commands and Shortcuts that make the most commonly-used operations more accessible and do-able.
Which cool methods and "tricks of the trade" do you use the most when animating?
I've got a million of them, but what I've been doing a lot lately is sort of going back to basics and really trying to find ways to get the most out of every frame. Supervising a series whose style of motion happens to be quick and snappy, it makes you think about the fact that what really makes cartoons funny are the poses, and popping from pose to pose is part of the whole visual comedic effect.
This isn't a big secret to say the least. It seems like inbetweening your animation is what waters it down. Over-thinking and over-animating your characters can be every animator's biggest downfall. Sometimes less is more.
Carefully choosing WHERE those very few inbetweens are in the spacing from one pose to the next can make or break the whole action.
Animating on a combination of 1s and 2s is probably one of the most important aspects of any Flash, Toon Boom, 2D animated series. Too many productions rely on tweening everything, it makes the animation all move at the same speed. When you animate on 1s and 2s and drastically vary the spacing between your drawings and being mindful of their arcs of motion. It equips the animator with so much more variety in their timing and movements, making the animation look stronger, having more weight to it.
Most people when they think of a show's "style" they only think of the art direction and character design, but one must think of the style of motion and timing, every show is different.
Getting the most out of every drawing is an art form by itself. Less animation = funny is what I've been learning, but it still needs to move from scene to scene and pose to pose, so how to get from one key pose to the next in as few frames as possible is often more difficult than it would be to just in-between it as normal straight-ahead.
Here's some tricks I use.
The key is to make those breakdown drawings work for you, where you place them can give your animation snap, natural overlap, anticipation – practically you need to get from key to key.
In retrospect, do you look for imperfections in your work or just go with the flow and trust the director and animation supervisor?
I do a lot of both. Usually, in the beginning, you want to feel out the directors and producers, see what they have in mind for the overall stylistic choices they may have for the production, both in terms of acting style, motion/timing style, and art direction style.
Once you start to develop a sense of what the clients want in these categories, then you begin to search for the imperfections in your own work, until then, you're not sure what those imperfections are.
Once it's established and rules/principles are put into place, you're off to the races, the production's graphic style and timing style is continually evolving and being discovered as you move through the production, so you go with the flow, but the more you get armed with the knowledge that you know what the creative/artistic goals are for the production, the more comfortable things get. Once everything is establish then I start to look for imperfections in the work.
Do you hang out with the rest of the animators after work hours? Or there are no time to have some fun during the work week?
I used to a lot. But I've got a wife and two children now, so in recent years I rarely get to hang out with the crew after-hours. I miss that social aspect of it, but whenever we have big studio parties I try to attend those.
What are your thoughts about the general 'work instability' that a lot of animators and artists in the field seems to be talking about lately?
Work instability in the animation industry will always be there. What many people especially those that are new to this career don't always realize, is that this has always been the nature of television and film production in general (video games and visual effects can be a bit more long-term.
An animator is similar to a construction worker or carpenter. There's no such thing as permanent work, just like the construction company - a client hires you for a job, once the house is built or the building is constructed or the road is laid out, your job is done.
Permanency is animation is as uncommon as permanency as a construction worker or carpenter. You're a journeyman, a constant freelancer, even if you are an official employee of the animation studio, on a salary with benefits, ultimately you are on a contract and the project will end. Two weeks, two months, two years at best, it will eventually end.
You go from contract to contract, you can have steady work, many, many years of non-stop animation work if everything for that studio lines up perfectly and you're able to get transferred over from one production to the other over and over. But it's the nature of film and television, eventually the contract comes to a close, and the project gets completed.
Only once you get to higher positions like design, supervision, direction, and management can there possibly be more stability. And of course those positions are far more scarce compared to entry-level artists, assistants, generalists and junior animation positions.
What is your favorite 2D and 3D animated film(s) and cartoon, of all time and why?
I suppose my favorite 3D animated film thus far is "The Incredibles". A sharp, amusing, and very clever homage to comic book lore, a great family-friendly action-comedy, and a thoughtful marital drama all wrapped up in a deliciously exciting super-hero package. It was assembled with an intense amount of care and love so that every cut, every sound, every movement, builds to a euphonious whole.
My favorite 2D animated film is a tough one to pick, there are so many. I would have to settle on "The Iron Giant" (can you tell I'm a Brad Bird fan?)... the film is so well crafted in every way. It's pretty much the perfect animated movie, I'll arm-wrestle anyone who says different!
What are your thoughts about Japanese Animation? Are you a fan or prefer good old American Animation style?
I'm not a big fan of Japanese Animation, though I grew up loving so many series like Thundercats, Transformers, and Robotech, which were all technically made in Japan. I'd have to say North American animation and even some European animation is what I usually prefer watching.
I have a few exceptions; like most things made by Masaaki Yuasa, Satoshi Kon, Hayao Miyzaki, Rintaro and Katsuhiro Otomo. Those guys, well, they defy reality and all logic, they understand the craft of animation on a level that is on another plane of existence!
But overall, the visual styles, narratives, and sensibilities found in North American series and films are more to my liking.
What is the most difficult part for you about being in the animation business, and how do you handle it?
Probably the most difficult parts are two things; communicating and interacting with non-artistic producers, and working within schedules that are too short and budgets that are too low for the production's goals and objectives. Not a very original answer ha!
These two aspects often go hand in hand. This happens with many off-shoots of similar creative fields, graphic design, illustration, writing, set-building, etc. Having the creative and artistic staff having to justify their work and their actions to clients and executives that do not understand the craft or the process involved in producing the final product.
When their ultimate goals are ONLY to save as much money as possible for themselves, it can be immensely frustrating to the entire operation. But as experience has taught me, even the most demanding and unrealistic of executives, still usually (but not always) have the best intentions in mind, and therefore one just needs to find common-ground in order to get the production finished in a methodology and quality that everyone can agree on, or at least meet in the middle somewhere.
The other factor of budget constraints has (and always will be) the never-ending obstacle/challenge in televisions and film production. It can be exhausting to build and re-build pipelines, and production strategies that maximize efficiency while still optimizing peek quality.
It seems the budgets keep getting smaller and the demand for quality keeps getting higher. Technology definitely aids in all this, but increasing competition from over-seas studios always force North American studios to change, adapt and stay on top of the latest tools, efficiencies, and techniques in order to stay optimal, competitive, and as cost-effective as possible.
Have you ever had a character/scene that was too difficult for you to animate and which project was that on? And how did you tackle that problem(s)?
I personally never have. Since I've been primarily directing and supervising these past 12 years, if there's a scene or sequence that is far too difficult to animate, I simply find some who CAN animate that scene.
There's always reference somewhere to study and learn from. I've been lucky and resourceful enough to always find an artist that has the sensibilities to tackle any particular scene that needs to be done. The more complex the scene, the more time you have to take to plan it out, the more you breakdown the process into micro steps the more manageable the task becomes.
No matter how difficult the scene or sequence you give it enough time and research what needs to be done, and break it down into tiny little pieces, eventually you just tackle the problem one small step at a time and it always comes together.
Who influenced you the most in the animation industry? Who is or was your ultimate Mentor during your early stages?
Since I began directing only 18 months after getting my first job, I didn't have too many mentors to look up to. Before I had the chance to really get used to being an animator I was thrust into the world of directing and managing, people looked up to me for answers, so I developed leadership skills through necessity.
I wish I had more of a chance to grow as an animator and I did occasionally have other experienced directors and managers to look up to during the big learning curves, but I just flew by the seat of my pants for the most part. Surrounding myself with great artists and lead animators was (and always is) the best choice to make.
Sean Scott (Doodlez, Jimmy Two Shoes) was unknowingly my mentor in my first year as an animator. He was a fantastic character designer and storyboard artist; I learned a lot from studying his work.
What are your thoughts about animated cartoons nowadays? Do they become harder to produce or animate due to higher competition between the animation channels?
It's a double-edged sword. On one hand, it's getting easier, as I gain more and more experience my range of expertise gradually gets wider. My know-how and directing skills get more focused and mature, and my wisdom in regards to production planning become deeper.
On the other hand; the landscape is constantly changing, the trends, tools, perceptions, and sensibilities of the executives, show runners, and clients are altering every year. The market is always bobbing back and forth. Keeping up with producers' demands and broadcasters' requirements and needs can be a full time job.
What are your thoughts about online animation schools like 'Animation Mentor' or iAnimate.net? Would you teach there if you had a chance? Do you think such schools mass-produce animators to the already 'low demand' from the studios themselves?
I would love to teach for an online school like that. For a field as digital and technology-driven as animation, where the software and tools are completely dependent on he latest tech, it only makes sense to offer these courses online.
Industry experts are all wired in the internet and for those willing to share their knowledge they are there to project their expertise and proficiency to all those willing to listen.
Should students spend time learning animation at traditional animation schools (I.e. Cal Arts) or go to the online animation schools route?
It completely depends on the individual, if you are a self-directed and self-motivated person, then go the online route, you'll save money and you'll have a much more focused learning experience.
If you need to be more social, have a structured, regimented learning environment; you need a similar process as the one you had going through high school, then yes, go to a traditional animation school.
2D Animation vs. 3D animation what are your thoughts on this endless battle?
It will always be an endless battle, and I choose 2D all the way! Even if in 50 years from now no 2D exists at all in feature films or television, the process to get there will always require a 2D process first. I can see that in the far future, 2D will be strictly a novelty, a "style" that the creator/producer will go for, purely for aesthetic/visual-style reasons.
As 3D CG animation evolved over the years the quality gets better and better, not only because of the technological leaps and bounds in tools and software development, but the techniques themselves.
Just look at Pocoyo, "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" (the new series), "Hotel Transylvania", Presto, "Cloudy With A Chance of Meatball 2"s. These series, shorts and films (in my opinion) break new ground in terms of using 2D animation principles and applying them to 3D CGI.
The squashy-stretchy nature of the characters and objects in "Hotel Transylvania" and Presto, the snappy timing of Pocoyo, it's all these technical challenges that gradually get overcome to produce something that looks more 2D. Since 3D animation began with stuff like Reboot and Toy Story, I've always disliked the "look" of it. Its movements were always flat, unappealing, robotic, inorganic, non-dynamic, and incredibly stiff, slow, floaty and lifeless.
But in recent years, as 3D CG has been evolving, you notice how much they've been stealing from what 2D animation has been doing all a long for decades. They are still far from capturing the life that 2D animation can bring to the screen, but they are getting closer every year.
Have you seen the Peanuts teaser? Or the LEGO movie? These are amazing for that! No motion blur, shot on 2s, crazy smear frames, poppy pose-to-pose animation, soooo good.
Which animation film or cartoon project would you love to be a part of if you could go back in time?
Tell us about the experience of working at Collideascope? Why do you think you stayed there for so many years?
Primarily, it was the people.
We were working on so many exciting productions; we had a nice space to work in, a very collaborative and enjoyable work environment with amazing projects to work on. The owners let me operate and manage the place anyway I saw fit.
This may not have been the smartest move on their part, since I was young and inexperienced when I began, but I had some great assistant directors and artists by my side to help me along the way. The work kept coming, they always needed my to plan, schedule, recruit and direct various series.
We developed our own intellectual properties that gave us 5 solid years of work with a big crew. It was simply lots of fun to be there, in all it was nearly 10 years of work, so many fond memories.
Have you ever thought about transitioning from animated kids shows to full feature films?
Not really. Going back to the whole 2D vs 3D thing. It seems like 3D has dominated the feature film area of the industry, with DreamWorks and Disney closing their 2D division some years ago, many keep proclaiming, "the end is near" for 2D, but if you look at television 2D is stronger than it has EVER been. The amount of 2D television animated series happening these past 3 years world-wide is staggering.
The demand is high and the amount of work across North America for television and online animation is bountiful and the quality keeps shooting upwards. Have you seen Turbo F.A.S.T, Gravity Falls, Wander Over Yonder, Wakfu, Neverland Pirates, "Toot and Puddle", and "Teen Titans Go"? Just to name a few, the quality of animation and/or art direction is mind-blowing, not to mention the writing and voice acting is always top notch.
I don't really see any work in 3D feature animation for my skill sets at the moment. Though I get more confidence in the idea of it when I see articles and interviews with directors like Genndy Tartakovsky and Rich Moore. And reading about how much they were completely oblivious to the 3D CG pipeline and workflow. But they all realized eventually that it really is only a tool to do the same thing they were doing in 2D before. Playing a big role in a 2D animated feature film someday appeals to me.
What is the current demand for Flash based animation compared to 2D animation process with software like 'Toon Boom Animation'?
The number of Flash studios still out-number the Toon Boom studios, but Toon Boom is definitely growing at a steady pace across the world. I'm not opposed to learning Toon Boom and using it for production, it's simply been by coincidence that I have not gotten the opportunity to try it out yet.
So far, I've only seen a few things that Toon Boom excels at compared to Flash, but I guess I'm just used to Flash and it's more easy-to-learn nature with its more intuitive interface and operations.
It's inevitable, I'll have to use Toon Boom someday, but until then, I haven't run into anything I couldn't do with the use of Flash, Photoshop and After Effects in terms of any style of design, art direction, and character/FX animation or performance.
Have you thought about becoming an entrepreneur?
I have a lot over the last 6 years.
It's something that I've never been sure about.
The world of business itself and the stress of hunting down contracts and perpetually seeking out work had never appealed to me. In that respect; I'd be more of an operations partner or a managing partner. Leaving the finances, tax credits, and the more deep business-related aspects of the company to the other business partners, but I've never really found those partners (they'd have to fall into my lap cause I've never sought them out either).
In those regards I've always either been so busy with production or not financially stable enough to really take the big plunge.
Tell the audience and us a little bit about your latest projects, what are you working on as for 2014?
"Teen Titans GO!" It has consumed my life for the past 18 months and will continue to do so for the next little while. I was briefly involved with Bravoman (a web series) and Roy (a BBC series), but I've mainly been supervising Titans for Warner Bros. for all of 2013-1024.
If you could choose to work with any artist(s) past or present from the animation business, who would he/they be and why? What makes them so awesome?
Creative geniuses like Graham Annable, Aaron Long, Alex Buerta, Anthony Schepperd, Harry partridge, Malcolm Sutherland, Nate Theism Pascal Campion, Todd Ramsay, Nick Cross, Alex Hirsch, Joe Pitt, and Steven Hillenburg are people I'd love to collaborate with, they are totally nuts and amazing artists/writers, and it would be an incredible and hilarious fantasy of mine to collaborate with any of them.
Do you find yourself checking out other animator's/artists' works? Comparing them to your own? Maybe learning new things from them?
I try to look at other artists' works as much as I can. Not to compare with my own work at all, but just to learn and observe and see what others are doing, it keeps me staying current, and keeps me up to date with what friends and peers are doing as well.
Comparing my work with others is silly endeavor, I don't think any artist should ever "compare" their work to others, but simply observe other people's work, be a fan of others' works, admire, respect, appreciate and learn from others.
I Don't see it as competition, but a way to grow and be inspired from the works of others, that's the best way to have your own skills get naturally better. Reference and study from life, get inspired and influenced from other designers/animators' works in a positive way.
What's one of the harder decisions you've had to make?
It's always difficult whenever I had to lay off a crew of animators for an indefinite amount of time between contracts, I always felt bad, it has nothing to do with the artists' performance, it's simply that the production has come to and end; "at this time we don't have any new contracts to transfer you to".
Those were very tough conversations to have. It wasn't life and death, but there is something extremely difficult about the laying off process — not a pleasant thing to have to do.
I've been on the other end of that. In 2008, when the producer/owner of Collideascope told me that the studio had to shut-down permanently, I knew it was going to take everything I had to hold it together and stay calm and sane while I told the crew the bad news.
Staying strong, supporting the artists during the lay off period, helping everyone through the process over the next couple months is all part of the job. Before the end of contract and the studio's closure, I was helping everyone find new jobs elsewhere, and supporting them through the hard times.
What do you hope for in lifme and the future?
I've already got it. I'm supervising a top-rated kids shows for television, which is rare in this business. I'm well respected—by some people. I have an awesome crew of artists that feel the utmost confident in having by my side as we charge into any battle that is laid before us, I can generate my own work — when I can find the time; I have an amazing family; I have good friends. I'm very lucky.
What have you learned from life so far?
Here's what I've learned, it's invaluable and I wish I'd learned it much earlier: It is absolutely fine to leave the party anytime you want. You don't have to feel guilty, you don't have to go find the host and say, "Hey man, I gotta go," you don't have to find your friends. Just leave. An Irish goodbye, every time. Don't worry about it; deal with it later. Nobody really gives a shit—if you want to leave, leave!
Lastly, is there any advice you can give to an aspiring animation student or artist trying to get into the animation or gaming business?
The number one thing to remember when you are an aspiring animation student or artist getting ready to enter this industry is this...
Your work ethic will ALWAYS speak volumes over your speed and quality in this type of career. Why? Because speed and quality are mostly technique and methodology, they are skills and tools that you learn over time to sharpen and get better.
However, your attitude and work ethic is purely YOU. It's your approach, your disposition, your keenness, your willingness to learn, your eagerness to collaborate with others, and your reputation to be 'easy to work with' are all things that will guarantee your longevity in this business. And will make your experiences in this industry far more enjoyable.
The painfully ironic thing about being a student in training is... you have no reputation, the references and recommendations from your instructors is all you have as positive words from other people that will speak highly of you.
In other words, your demo reel is the most crucial and vital factor that will get you into a career in animation. The resume, cover letter, and high school or college grades mean absolutely nothing. Your demo reel that you complete at the end of college (and most definitely the worst one you will ever produce), is your one and only weapon to get your foot in the door.
But once you get your first taste of production in film, television or games; then it's all up to you, you must follow-though on your training and have the most open and positive attitude you can have, absorb all knowledge like a sponge and sling shot yourself into this crazy and wondrous world of animation.
So the most common advice on attitude is to have a positive one.
This is, of course, easier said than done. It's normal to have bad days, we're only human. It's what you do with both the good and bad days that can make or break your success and overall fulfillment in the job.
I've found that steadiness and consistency is the key, and a proactive attitude is your best weapon. Recognize the bad days, reflect on what made them bad, then let them go. Embrace the good days, reflect on what made them good. These nuggets of personal learning you collect can keep you extremely motivated.
The scale of the successes and failures change but both will always happen...
- Being picked up on a show
- Nailing your shots
- Making a big contribution to a worthwhile project
- Shots revised
- Missing deadlines
- Shots reassigned
- Not having a contract picked up
How you react to your circumstances says as much about you as an animator as your work. The best advice I can give is to try to stay humble after success and to try and reset after failure.
Not every success or failure is a representation of your abilities. You may struggle with a shot, a sequence or even for an entire show. It does not mean you are not a good animator. You may just be working on something that lies outside your sensibilities.
How well you adapt goes farther than your quality and speed. Those are important factors, but those are elements that can be trained and molded. Having a pleasant and positive attitude with a strong work ethic is the sort of thing that makes you sought after.
Production managers, supervisors, producers and directors will always take notice in the individual that has that never-ending eagerness to learn new things, try new scenes, and showing diversity in their workflow. Anyone that exhibits a willingness to help others on the crew and shows a constant, steady rate on improvement in their own skills, will be an artist that is making themselves the most valuable.
Once you've started your path in this industry you'll eventually realize the one most important thing there is to learn from this industry:
You don't do this work for the money.
You don't do this work for the fame and glory.
You don't do this work for the awesomeness of one day working on a super cool production.
Why? Because all these things are rare and very temporary when they do happen.
You do this for the people.
Because, you meet so many amazing people in this industry. Like-minded nerds and geeks are the people you work with, they are at your side. You get to know them well, you network with them, you keep in touch with them, and collaborate closely with them. They love the same shows, comics, movies, books, conventions, and festivals that you do.
Animation production is very hard work; it can be monotonous, repetitive, tedious, and tiresome. But it is also the most rewarding thing you can imagine. You meet and work with other fantastic artists, and this creates unexpected friendships that last a lifetime, and memories you'll cherish forever.