We Interviewed David Stodolny - Senior Character Animator for DreamWorks Animation Studios

Posted at Aug 30th, 2013 by AnimDesk.

David Stodolny - Senior Character Animator for Dreamworks Animation Studios

David Stodolny works as a senior character Animator for DreamWorks Animation Studios, founder and animator at Stodoe Animation Studio, and also an upcoming online Animation School course instructor at CGTarian.com.

David grew up in Brampton, Ontario, Canada which is just outside of Toronto. He has been animating since he was eleven years old and since then pushed himself into the Animation industry. For three years, David took the Classical 2D animation course at Sheridan College in Oakville, Ontario, Canada

As of 2013, David is assigned to work on DreamWorks' upcoming 3D animated movie: "HOME".

Thank you very much David Stodolny for this interview, we would like to start with you by telling us about yourself?

Thank you so much for contacting me. Let me tell you a little about myself, and what I do. I'm a Senior Character Animator for DreamWorks Animation Studios. I'm also a director and creator of two YouTube channels: youtube.com/stodoe and youtube.com/secondaryinspection. I'm a course instructor for the upcoming online animation school CGTarian.com and at home I'm a husband to a beautiful wife and father to an adorable baby girl.

Where are you from, and how did you get into the animation business?

I grew up in Brampton, Ontario, Canada. It is located just outside of Toronto. I've been animating since I was eleven years old and pushed myself to get into the animation industry. I worked really hard at it and when it came the time to apply for Animation College, I was accepted and worked really hard for 3 years till I graduated. After school was over I got a call from Nelvana which is a TV animation studio in Toronto, and they hired me as a Flash animator on a few of their shows. And that's how my career started.

Did you use to draw a lot growing up? What kind of style you liked the most?

I have been drawing since I can remember. I believe I was 3 or 4 years old. I still remember one time in preschool around Halloween time we all had to draw a Halloween character. So, I drew a bat. Everyone loved it so much that all the kids lined up so I could draw one for them. I guess I knew it's what I wanted to do very early.

How and when did you realize that animator is what you would like to be?

My father bought us a traditional animation program for our computer when I was about eleven years old. The program was called Disney Animation Studio and I just played with it for hours and made little shorts and cartoons. It came very naturally to me and I loved making characters move. I knew I wanted to do animation for the rest of my life.

My father bought us a traditional animation program for our computer when I was about eleven years old. The program was called "Disney Animation Studio".

Which animation school did you go to? And when?

In 2008 I went to Sheridan College in Oakville, Ontario, Canada for Classical 2D animation for 3 years.

What was your first animated scene or action you worked on?

I've been animating since I was eleven years old. I unfortunately can't remember which my first animated scene or action was. I think I started doing a walk cycle or a run cycle of a dog to see what it would look like. I did so many different test animations back then and worked hard to hone my skills. I wish I still had copies of all those animated clips. It would be a lot of fun to look at them again and see how far I've come.

How did you end up animating for DreamWorks?

I moved to LA to work for Sony Pictures Imageworks where I worked on movies like Open Season, Surf's Up and Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs. DreamWorks had heard about me and asked me to come in to the studio and see what they were working on. I was so impressed with the artwork and test animation I was seeing for How to Train Your Dragon that I couldn't resist. A few months later I started working at DreamWorks on How to Train Your Dragon.

Why and when did you decide to create your own animation studio?

I created Stodoe Studios as a way to get back into 2D animation. I grew up doing 2D animation and I loved it. When I got out of school there was very little work for 2D animators due to the decline in 2D movies.

Since I've been working on 3D movies for so long I wanted to get back into doing traditional animation and therefore started small. I did a few short animated parodies for YouTube. Little did I know that they would become so popular! I started Stodoe Studios about 3 years ago as an outlet for my desire to create 2D animation.

How do you find the time to work at both studios?

A very good question! And I have to say that I have to make time. I work a full 8 to 10 hours a day at DreamWorks and then when I'm working on my shorts I go home and wait for my daughter to go to bed and then start working on my Stodoe Studios animation around 9pm.

Sometimes I'm awake all night. Each short can take anywhere from a week to 3 months or more. I schedule my time and give myself deadlines so I continue to create content. When I'm not creating my own work I get antsy and stressed out. So even though I'm exhausted the next day, I love creating 2D animation for the world to enjoy.

Which projects are you working on at your own now?

Currently I'm working on a movie for DreamWorks called "HOME" And for Stodoe Studios I'm starting to narrow down the ideas I have into one or two that I'm about to start. My live action channel: Secondary Inspection is constantly on the move as well as we create one short per month.

What are some of your favorite projects you’re proud to have been a part of?

I have to say the one I enjoyed animating on the most is Surf's Up. But the movie that I'm most proud to say I'm a part of is How To Train Your Dragon even though I really didn't do that much on it.

What’s a typical day is like for you with regards to your job?

A typical day for me at work is get in around 9:30, open up a shot that I've been cast on. Work on it until dailies with the director comes up. Go down and watch the director watch my shot and give me notes. Usually report to my supervisor and see if there's anything else he wants me to do on my shots.

Have lunch around noon and then from noon till 3:00 work on my shot. Continuing to polish and get notes on it. And then take a short coffee break and then work till I go home around 7:00. And then the next day I do the same. Days change depending on what stage the shot is at.

Sometimes we have meetings as a team; sometimes no one needs to talk to you for a couple of days. It changes all the time. Overall we're all friends at work and when you're taking a break you're seeing what your friends are working on. Offering suggestions on how to improve their shots, as they do to me as well. It kind of feels like college except that I'm getting paid.

Sometimes we have meetings as a team; sometimes no one needs to talk to you for a couple of days. It changes all the time.

What part of your job do you like best and why?

Honestly the best part of my job is when I get to start a shot. No one has seen it yet and no one can tell me it's wrong. It's the most fun because I can do whatever I want. Hopefully by the end the director likes my take on it, although sometimes he changes it. Either way the best part is just starting a shot because it's all mine.

What is your favorite 2D or 3D animated film, and why?

I honestly can't say. I love both. There are such good examples of both. I think I get more inspired by 2D films though. They always make me want to pick up a pencil or open up ToonBoom Animation and start animating.

What are your thoughts about Japanese Anime? Are you a fan or prefer good old American animation?

I think it's beautiful. There are some great Anime movies out there. I have to admit that I haven't had much exposure to it. When I grew up with animation it was mainly around Disney movies and Warner Bros. cartoons but I've seen a couple of Anime movies and the level of detail in them is amazing. And their stories are definitely the best I've seen. I wish more 2D studios would take chances and understand that animation doesn't always have to be for kids.

Which animation software do you use on a daily basis? And what is your workflow?

At DreamWorks we use proprietary software that programmers created for DreamWorks. But at home when I'm working on my Stodoe Studios projects I use ToonBoom Animate. My workflow really is to just sit there and listen to the audio over and over until I have an idea in my head of what I want it to look like. Then I might shoot some live action reference if it's a difficult action.

And then I watch the reference but don't copy it. I just get ideas from it. Or I see what my eyes are doing that I didn’t know they were doing before. Then I start animating. If it's in 2D I do all my key poses first. If I'm working in 3D I'll just animate in a layered way. Doing the hips first for the whole shot. Then the torso and then the head, and so on, and so on.

What is the most difficult part for you about being in the animation business?

I would say the most difficult thing is that each project I work on takes a year or more of my life. So it takes a long time to see a final result. If you're cast on a movie that you're not particularly excited about you are on it for longer than you'd prefer. Thank goodness that doesn't happen very often. I am usually able to find excitement and fun in every project I work on. The other thing is that sometimes studios aren't always stable. Some studios hire short term and that's it. I've been lucky so far and have been able to work places as long as I've wanted to.

Have you ever had a problem in a scene or an action that was too difficult to solve?

I can't say there is any problem that I haven't been able to solve, because no matter what it was, it had to be finished at some point. But there are times where I will do a version of a shot that the director doesn't agree with and I don't really understand what he's trying to tell me to fix it. So I've done 10 or 15 versions of it and struggle to get what he wants. That's rare but it happens and it can be very frustrating.

Which movie/project was that on?

Every single movie has that problem. Every movie has one or two scenes that take you way longer than it should to get right.

Who influenced you the most in this business? Who is or was your ultimate animation Mentor?

This is such a hard question for me to answer. I'm not a "fan boy" of animation. I'm an animator. I never really followed the whole animation community and who was who, and who did what. I can honestly not even name the "Nine Old Men" I animate because I love it and love creating imagery that has feeling or comedy.

But my inspiration changes every day and my mentors are any specific piece of animation that I see at the moment and I try to learn by watching it. But I don't usually explore the people that animate things. If I did have to choose one I would say Glen Keane. I love his drawing style and poses.

Many people would say that I have a very Disney style of drawing and I think that comes from the Golden Era of Disney Animation, which Glen Keane, Mark Henn, Andreas Deja and James Baxter animated in. So, I would say that my inspiration would come from them I guess, but again I don't really know much about them. I just love the movies they've worked on.

My inspiration changes every day and my mentors are any specific piece of animation that I see at the moment and I try to learn by watching it.

2D vs. 3D what are your thoughts on this endless battle?

I don't think it's a battle. I think they each have their place. I think right now 2D is being explored in amazing ways on the Internet and in other countries other than America and is breaking ground and will eventually create new styles that will become feature films. I just think it's a sleeping giant right now when it comes to American theaters but it will be woken up again. I think, as long as there's a story that people want to see it doesn't matter what medium it's created in.

Is there any advice you can give to an aspiring animation student or artist trying to get into the animation business?

Yes, you have to REALLY want to be an animator. It's a hard business and there's a lot of competition to get into it. But if you don't want to do anything else and you're committed to working hard at it until you get your foot in the door, then do it.

Never just assume you know how to animate. You have to keep practicing. I've been doing it for over 20 years and every single scene is just as hard at the last because every scene is different. Keep practicing and looking at reference and pausing your favorite animated movies to see how people before you did it. That's how I learned.

But the main piece of advice is don't give up. If you want to do it, don't get discouraged just because one studio doesn't hire you. If you want to do it keep updating your demo reel with new animation that you've done. We still do that in the industry.

Keep replacing your week animation with the best animation. You may not get into your dream studio right out of school. But take whatever animation job you get and learn from it and do it the best you can. Then when a better opportunity comes up, you'll be ready for it. You never keep growing in this industry.