Roy Margalit is an Israeli animator who has been working in the animation business for more than 10 years on various feature films, TV shows and animated commercials around the world for prestige animation companies like Weta, Framestore, Dreamworks and many more.
Roy's list of work include many famous feature films such as "Guardians of the Galaxy" by Marvel Studios, "Alvin and the Chipmunks 4" by Fox Pictures, "Madagascar 3", by Dreamworks Animation Studios, "How to train your dragon - TV Special", just to name a few.
When Roy is not working on animating characters, he enjoys playing music with his electric or classic guitar, travel to faraway places and draw whenever he can.
Thank you very much Roy Margalit for this interview, we would like to start with you by telling us about yourself, where are you from?
Thanks for having me! I'm from Tel Aviv, Israel. I've been in the animation business for more than 10 years now, working on feature films, TV and commercials around the world.
What do you love to do when you're not animating? Any hobbies? Extra passions?
When I'm not working in-front of a computer screen for 10 hours plus, I pick up my classic guitar or my electric guitar, turn on the AMP, and dive into the world of psychedelic rock or whispery folk.
Playing music with friends or on my own. Music was and still is a huge part of my life. I always felt that it goes hand in hand with animation. Timing, rhythm, spacing, you name it... other than that, I love traveling in faraway places, and drawing while attending life drawings classes, that's my meditation.
Were you involved with animation while you were growing up?
I started playing with animation at a very young age, my dad built me a basic animation table with a light bolt and a glass cover, I did a short classical animation course when I was little, but then I got introduced to the world of computer animation and it sucked me in immediately. It completely blew my mind that you can play and create in a whole different reality on a computer screen.
At the age of 12 I started with "Autodesk Animator Pro", an old school classical animation program for the pc. Couple of years later, I moved to 3D, when 3D studio for DOS came out.
Growing up, did you draw a lot? What style did you like the most? Did you have a favorite film?
Yeah I did draw but not enough to be a good at it. I tried to draw a lot of my favorite cartoons characters. I tried to study them, copying poses, expressions and memorizing them.
I was never the type of person who drew short animation clips on his note books at school, I tried, I did, but I gave up after 4-5 drawings...
Back in the 90's, when Disney were still doing their 2D animation films, every year I've waited for a new film to come out, and whenever a new film came out, I would go and see it more than a few times in the cinema.
The magic of moving drawings just amazed me back than and still does today. I think all Disney's film from the 90's are my favorites animated films.
Where did you go to learn the art of Animation? Which School was it?
I went to school at Vancouver Film School in Canada. I decided to drop the mouse and keyboard, pick up a pencil again and learn animation the way it meant to be. So I attended the Classical Animation program.
At school, I was surrounded by so many talented students and I was so scared and insecure cause I couldn't even draw a straight line, but I've learned so much from the students and the teachers, and so much from creating animation on a paper with a pencil and not on a computer screen. I think that this was probably one of the best decision I made in my professional life.
Why did you decide to study abroad and not in your country?
After gaining experience in CG animation and VFX on my own, I knew exactly what I wanted to take out from school. I wanted to learn from the top teachers in the business, especially in the field of character animation.
Sadly, the level of experience among the local teachers in Israel back then couldn't compete with the experience that the teachers abroad have. So that what made the decision
When did you realize that you wanted to become an Animator?
At a very young age I kind of knew that this is what I want to do.
Did you have a natural talent or you always had the skill to draw and animate?
I'm not sure I can call it a natural talent, but I had so much love and passion for this field, and that kept me wanting to know more and get better and better.
What was your first project you ever worked on? How did you get it?
I was working for a local post production studio in Tel Aviv, that was my first professional job. I don't remember how I got it, it was a long time ago.
I was working as a 3D generalist on a ketchup commercial. I had to do a trail of 3D ketchup being squeezed from a bottle, and chasing people around. It was horrible.
Nobody knew how a trail of ketchup should look while chasing people in the air, and we had like a week or two to do it... I figured it out in the end but It turned out bad.
I took the blame, and I was let go from the studio a few weeks after. I was very young and it was my first serious job, so I was feeling sad at the time… The ketchup product turned out as a huge success though...
Tell us a little bit about your time in Weta. How did you end up animating for them? What steps did you take to get there?
After I finished working on Guardians of the Galaxy at FrameStore, a friend of mine told me he is moving to New Zealand to work for Weta and they might need more people. So, I applied on line.
After a week, I got an email from them saying they want to have an interview. I was a bit surprised, since most of my reel is key-frame / cartoon type of work, compare to the heavy realistic and mo-cap based work they do at the studio. But apparently, it was a case of a good timing to apply since they were looking for key frame/cartoony animators for their upcoming projects.
At the time of the phone interview I was backpacking with my girlfriend in one of the islands in Thailand. It was fun and trippy interview... 2 months later we were on our way to New Zealand.
Weta is a fantastic studio, they take care of everybody who come and work for them. The people are great. Lots of talented people from all around. It's just a big family of artists at the end of the world.
The studio is situated in the small and pretty neighborhood of Miramar, which is a suburb of Wellington. It's a top-notch facility, filled with big screening rooms, mo-cap rooms, render farms, lots of different kind of departments, and everywhere you go you get to see pieces of history.
From the old days of Peter Jackson's indie-horror films "Bad Taste" to the ground breaking "Lord of The Rings" Trilogy," Avatar" and "The Hobbit". Items from sets, costumes, concept art and character design are scattered around the different studios It is inspiring. Of course, there are a lot of crazy hours when you reach "Crunch Time", but they know how to keep you staying.
What was a typical day looked like for you in when you worked at Weta?
Waking up, checking if it's not raining and how windy it is today, taking the car or the bus and admiring the gorgeous view on the way to work, entering the studio, greeting the hobbits and elves, grabbing a green tea, checking the latest renders of my shots, applying for dailies and rounds with my supervisors, working on my blocking shot, or my spline shot, grabbing lunch with my friends, working on my shot, taking a short walk at 5 o'clock, admiring the sunset, contemplating about life, back in the studio, working till night time, home to see my girlfriend, a crappy TV show or a cheap art-house/horror film, planning the next weekend trip (if I'm not working of course), going to bed.
What part of your job do you like best and why? What makes it so awesome in your eyes?
The best part for me is when I'm connecting to the character I'm working on. When I feel that I know exactly how it should behave and act in the given situation of the scene.
I'm getting the right feedback from my supervisor and it's all coming together with the idea I had, and I just can't wait to start working on it.
Do animators collaborate with each other at the studio? Do you guys also hang out after work?
Of course! A lot of people like to use video reference for their acting shots, so people tend to help each other, acting out their shots, throwing some ideas. Others like to get feedback from more experienced artists, learn their techniques, get their thoughts on their shot. It's a must. If you'll never learn from others, you'll never grow as an artist. Nobody knows everything.
As for hanging out after work, sure, some people do spend time after work, hanging out at the local bars, partying, traveling. Others got families so it's a bit more difficult for them, especially after spending so many hours in the studio without seeing their partner and kids.
What are some of your favorite projects you're proud to have been a part of?
I'm very proud to have worked on "Alvin and the Chipmunks 4", I know, it's a children film, but hey, I once was a kid too and I LOVED the chipmunks! I still remember that crappy theme song, so it was kind of cool to work on an "Alvin" film.
The other project I'm proud to have worked on was Madagascar 3, even though my role wasn't a big one, and I didn't get huge shots on the film, but for me, the first Madagascar film was the film that showed me that a 3D animated film can look and act like a 2D animated cartoon, with all the crazy squash and stretch and smears and crazy poses.
When I was a student at VFS, it just blew my mind, I remember watching many parts of the film, frame-by-frame… I told myself "They nailed it" … few years later, working on Madagascar 3 was a very huge honor for me.
What's your animation work flow looks like while animating?
When I get a new shot, let's say, an acting with dialogue shot, I start off by writing the dialog down on paper, I listen to the audio track to find the words that needs to be emphasis, and then I listen to it again, over and over and over until I get to the point where I remember it while I'm peeing in the toilet. Its stuck with me now. Then, I try to think about the acting choices, I try to imagine the acting in my mind, I draw what I think might be the key poses, the behavior and the mood.
Once I feel like I got the idea, I block just a few strong poses that can tell the story of the acting. I than show it to my supervisor. Once the blocking get approved, I sometime act it out in front of a camera, which enable me to see the little acting nuances that can contribute to the character, to make it feel more alive. Once It's all there, I add more poses, breakdowns and in-betweens, and I start to spline my shot till the end.
Which cool methods and ‘tricks of the trade' do you use the most when animating?
I like to do my work with less techy stuff and more clear simple approach. I think the only thing I use as "tricks" are probably selection groups. So, it's easier for me to select different parts of body parts like a whole arm, or leg, or the body with the legs or parts of the face, etc. Other than that, it's quite straightforward. Keeping it simple.
What are some of your favorite films you're proud to have been a part of during your career as an animator?
Guardians of the Galaxy was a cool film to work on. everybody kind of felt that it's going to be huge hit when it will be out. "How to train your Dragon- TV Special" was fun to work on as well. And as I mentioned before, Madagascar 3.
Do you find yourself watching a film you've been a part of at home, or at friend's place, how does it makes you feel?
Nope. I'm very hard on myself. So, whenever I see my work on the big screen or small, I'm like "man, I could have done it so much better", so I try to avoid watching projects I've worked on...
In retrospect, do you always look for imperfections in your work?
In most cases, yes. I usually see how I could push things better when I'm done with the shot, and I see it again with fresh eyes. It got approved by my supervisor and the director, But I can see how I could improve it and how it could be better, how the spacing could work better there, or how I could adjust that pose to be more appealing.
I don't think I ever felt 100% satisfaction with a shot I did, but I'm giving everything I can in the time frame I have. There's always, ALWAYS something you could push further.
Tell us a little about the tools that you are using, what's your preferences? Plugins? Methods?
As I mentioned before. I work straight forward. Not much of plugins person. Planning, blocking, splining, polishing.
Have you experienced in non-mainstream tools like Blender, XSI, LightWave before?
Yeah I tried some non-mainstream tools before, it was alright. Eventually it just a different type of pencil, but the same piece of paper. Animation is animation.
Do you think being a freelancer has its benefits in the industry compared to a full-time animator?
I think being a freelance is a tricky thing. On the one hand, it gives you the freedom to work almost anywhere in the world and at your own time. As a freelance I can work for a couple of months in one country and then move to the next one. It's an amazing way to work and travel, if that is your thing. The big con is that its inconsistent. You finish a project after a period of almost a year in one studio and then you need to start searching for the next gig. It can be hard.
There are many artists who leave their countries because there is no work for them there. So, moving again after a long project just because your contract ended isn't an easy thing. There is always a chance to stay for another project at the studio, but that is never a guarantee, and the search can be very stressful and tiring.
What do you think about the status of Animation in your homeland? Is there any market for animators?
It's a tricky place here, Israel. There aren't many studios here. Most of the work is based on commercials, and low/mid- budget TV cartoons. You do get to see some nice sparks every now and then. Some things have changed since I've started, but I was hoping it will change faster and grow bigger.
There were a few tries in building a feature film studio, but it all ended because of lack of experience, management, money etc. Mobile gaming is going strong, but the animation level is kind of low. There are no big games studios here yet, at least not that I'm aware of. There is a lot of good talent here, but the market is too small. I'm hoping it will change soon....
What is your favorite 2D or 3D animated films of all time and why?
The first Toy Story film got a very, very special place in my heart. I've seen it so many times in the cinema. It just melted my brain first time around, and I think after watching it, I kind of knew that I wanted to be part of this magic.
What is the most difficult part for you in the animation business?
Telling myself when to stop. There's always an amazing project somewhere in the world that you wish you could work on. But as you grow old, the balance between your work life and personal life starts to blur. It's easy to get lost in the long hours and demands of this field, and almost forget about your personal life. You can have the best demo reel in the world with amazing shots from insane projects, but you might wake up one day, realizing you're older now and life just passed you by...
Who is your ultimate Mentor during your early stages?
I had so many, but I guess my "Life Drawing" instructor at VFS, Adam Rogers, he taught me how to analyze the human figure. How to see that everything is based on shapes and forms and energies, there's a rhythm inside our body, everything connects to each other.
He made me fall in love with drawing again, he showed me that one simple line can tell a whole story, and that affected the way I do my animation and poses.
Have you ever thought about going solo? Becoming an animation entrepreneur and create your own stamp in animation history?
I guess it comes and goes. The hardest thing is being original, but if you don't try you'll never know. I'm waiting for a good idea to hit me or to collaborate with other like-minded.
2D animation vs. 3D animation, what are your thoughts on this endless battle?
I love them both, but 2D will always win my heart. Its drawing. Its moving drawings! And drawings are timeless.
Tell the audience and us a little bit about your latest projects, what are you working on as for 2017?
I am now working both locally in Tel Aviv and abroad. Helping on original content, TV/FILM and Gaming. I've been involved in some Virtual Reality projects, TV Cartoons shows, and gaming cinematic. 2017 just started and Im curious to see what adventures may come this time around.
If you could choose to work with any artist (past or present) from the animation business, who would it be and why?
I don't have any specific artist I'd love to work with, but I would love to be involved in projects that are a little off the main stream, for a more mature audience, without all the "family values" and clichés you get to see dozens of times in the mainstream cinema.
What are your goals and aspirations?
There are always better projects and cool studios to work for. It never ends really. People are doing amazing things these days
and it's always tempting to apply for these projects. I would love to enter the video games field. I love video games, and you barely see good and stylized animated video games. I am very grateful for working in this field, it is not an obvious thing to make a living from something that you love, and I want to keep on doing that, maybe climb up the ladder a little bit, be more involved in artistic developments.
Lastly, is there any advice you can give to an aspiring animation student or artist trying to get into the animation or gaming business?
I think that If you're aiming high, you'll have to work hard to get there. There are no short-cuts. You'll have to move out from your comfort zone and be ready to sacrifice things. Dreams comes with a price...
You got to be patient, things will come, don't stress yourself too much, but try and recognize opportunities that might push you forward later, do mistakes and do wrong choices, that's how you'll learn, and it will lead you to where you want to be.
I think animation is an amazing field, not only because of the projects you work on, but also because of the people you meet along the way.
There are so many interesting, talented and cool people in this industry, and there are so many people to learn from and get critiques, so that's super important. Learn from everyone and everything. Drop the ego. People with ego are the one you prefer to avoid working with again.
Pay attention to your health, especially around "crunch time"! Take some breaks from work, see the sun! And above all, don't forget to enjoy the ride, after all the journey is the goal :)