In this interview, Lindsey Pollard, animation director for shows such as The Simpsons and Sanjay and Craig, talks about her career and offers advice for aspiring animators.
- My name is Lindsey Pollard and I am the Supervising Animation Director on a show called "Sanjay and Craig," which is a Nickelodeon production. I've been doing that now, this is my third year. This is the third season, we're wrapping up the third season. We have about 10 shows left on the production. It's been really fun. It's kind of a wild ride. I'm the last person to touch the show. Basically, anything that moves is my responsibility and I supervise a team of people.
There's two timers and then there are two people who are revisionists. What happens is, after the boarding stage, we work from tracks, so we listen, we spend most of our days with headphones on listening to the dialogue. We're responsible for matching the dialogue to the movement. Of course, we're looking at the storyboards and the animatic and we're basically merging the dialogue with the storyboards and just making sure that anything that moves is moving exactly as it should.
We generally have some sort of animation experience. It's best if we know how to draw. We're merging the two together just to make sure that it's seamless. Basically, to make sure that the whole thing comes together and moves as smoothly as possible. It basically goes overseas where it's animated. One of our supervising directors is in fact, an animator, and so one of the shows that was broadcast recently had Snoop Dogg. There were some parts that were fully animated, so our supervising director, in fact, animated some of the sequences that are just, they're beautiful.
So all we did was we made sure that the in-betweens fell where they should, and so the accents hit, so that the animation was perfectly clear. Then overseas, there's a Korean studio called Saerom. We made sure that they hit exactly, the poses hit exactly where they should according to where the music hit so that it just was a seamless interpretation of what he wanted, but he basically did most of the drawings. Some of the the information that isn't in the storyboards, for example, if there's a cat in our show who's an ornery character, it's a bad-tempered cat, and so he's constantly flicking his tail.
If I want things like that to accent a point. The cat doesn't actually say anything, but if I want the cat to act, to supplement the action to do something on top of what's in the board, then I'll animate the cat flicking its tail, or meowing or rolling around, making a nuisance of itself, that sort of thing. I'm allowed to supplement whatever is not in the board. Secondary characters, or I think anything that's going to add to the action in the board, that's what my job is, is to just supplement.
Not detract from the action, but to add to it. So it's just a lot of listening to what's going on in the track and making sure that it supports whatever is going on. It's like a balance, trying to figure out what's best going to convey what's happening. Any action that's going on that's surrounding what the main point of the story is, to make sure that that action, again, is supporting what's going on in that particular scene.
I've worked on a lot of other shows. I've worked on a lot of Primetime shows. I started down here in Los Angeles on "The Simpsons," so that was actually a real, that was great, because of my neighbor, the person that found a place for me to live down here, it happened to be behind somebody who worked on "The Simpsons." So that was a real stroke of luck. That's, I think, how Los Angeles works. You know, and that's how I've stayed employed this whole time is through meeting people and making friends and finding these job opportunities, just through following people where ever they go and onto their projects, you know? So I've been really lucky.
So I worked there for a long time and I had a terrific director there, Bob Anderson, who I worked very closely with. So I worked there for a long time, and then whenever there was a layoff, I would go and work at other studios, because I'm not one who likes to be idle. So I would go and work at other studios and pick up freelance and so that's when I got a break working for Rough Draft Studios. I got to work on other projects at Rough Draft during the downtime, and then I would go back to "The Simpsons" for nine months at a time, and then work for three months at other places.
I did that for about six years and then I got a chance to work at Cartoon Network on "Camp Lazlo." Then I went from "Camp Lazlo" to "The Simpsons Movie," which was really exciting. That was my first chance at feature. That was great. That was a whole different sort of situation. I had never worked on a feature film before. The timeline, in a feature, the timeline is a lot more, it's extended and it's just a lot more time to really perfect something.
In television, you have a certain amount of time to do something and then it's on the air, that's it. It's finite, it's done and it's the best you can possibly make it in that amount of time. That's satisfying in and of itself. You just make it the best you can with your limited budget and then it's done. With feature, you keep reworking it as best you can and then the script often gets rewritten.
Sometimes things change quite radically with the script and then you end up with something that's really quite different. Each incarnation changes. Sometimes it can change a little. Sometimes it can change a lot. In television, the script might change once radically, where as in a feature, it might change multiple times radically. So you're often scrapping something multiple times before eventually, time just runs out. Then you just have to work with what you have and make it the best it can possibly be, but the timeline is just longer, you know? It was a lot of the same faces from television.
So I was working with some of the same people, but then I was also working with people who had worked on features before. That was really exciting because these people are incredible. I mean, they're amazing, and they're used to the longer timelines. I learned a lot. I just learned a lot, you know, in terms of the standards. The expectations were just quite a bit higher in terms of what was expected for the quality of the artwork. So that was exciting.
Undergrad, I went to McGill first. I come from a family of teachers. Many generations of teachers. I wanted to be a teacher, and so I went to McGill to become a history teacher, and realized I had no capacity for it at all. I took an art class which I loved. I had a terrific art teacher and he said, "I don't know why you don't go to art school," and I thought, "Was that even an option?" Because art school wasn't really an option.
I didn't realize there were places that you could go to study art full time. It hadn't really been something I'd really looked into. So, after McGill, I went to Emily Carr. I went to Emily Carr in Vancouver as a place where I would study painting and printmaking. I wasn't very good at either. Then, when I was printmaking one night, there was somebody who was doing prints for the background of their animated film, and I just thought, "That's it, "that's what I want to do," because I had always been a cartoonist since day one.
That had never been presented as an option as something to do full time, ever. It had never been taken seriously. So, when that was a possibility at art school, that there was actually a place where you could draw cartoons all day, every day. You don't call it cartooning, in art school, it's called animation. So that was a possibility. There were only seven people in the class for each level. It would be second year through fourth year.
That was just, that was it. I thought I would die if I didn't get into it, into the program, and so when I first applied, the teacher said, "Women make good editors, so no," and I thought, again, "If I don't get into this program, "I'll shrivel up and die." So I got into the program and then that was it. That was the right thing to do. My attitude has been, the people I would rather work with are good people, rather than talented superstars.
I would rather be on a crew of people that I really enjoy the company of, I would rather be with people who are really dedicated to making a good show, who work hard, who are consistent and reliable, rather than egotistical superstars who are there to sort of do their own thing.
The group that I'm currently with is a really terrific group and our show, it's on its last season and so what's happening is, people are starting to look for work elsewhere, and I find, what is really inspiring is that there are job opportunities that are coming up, and instead of people hiding what they know, people are sharing what they know. Have you heard Warner Brothers is hiring, and there's opportunities at Bento Box? I know that somebody's starting up a new show within the studio.
Have you talked to this person who's in charge? I've got this job here and I would love it if you would come and work with me. The information is shared amongst everybody, which is really, that's a positive thing, you know? As opposed to when a show shuts down, there's that feeling of dread of like, am I going to be able to stay? What am I gonna do next? That sort of hoarding of information, which can be really stressful.
It's different in that respect. So that I really appreciate, but this crew is just very generous. I've always worked with a generous crew. I've been very lucky. When you talk about a comedian having good timing, that's what it is that we do, as we make sure that everything is hitting where it should, so that it relays the feeling of what it is the storyboard artists and the voice actors and the writers want conveyed with the characters, that are flat, two-dimensional, unmoving characters.
How you bring them to life, so that they move and they do what it is that the original artists want them to, what they're supposed to do, in a way that makes them charming and relatable and identifiable, and what the audience then can identify with. The great thing about animation is that I think animators are approachable. Just in general, people within the industry are incredibly friendly and the great thing about Nickelodeon, and I think any of the studios that I've worked at is that you can befriend people by just basically saying, "I have questions, do you have time? "Can you answer these questions for me?" I think that you have to make the effort and you have to follow up, because it's very easy to knock on the door, but then you have to follow up, because people within the industry are busy and I think the longer that the industry lasts, the more schedules get tight.
I just think that's just inevitable. The expectations get higher and budgets get smaller, so people's schedules are tight. I think that you just have to be persistent and you have to be clear about what it is that you want and you have to follow up, but if you are open and polite about what it is that you would like, and you follow up, then you can ask all the questions that you want because people are generally very friendly.
I have no problem whatsoever talking to people about what it is that I do. We have a lot of internships within the studio. Most studios have internships. There are always people coming through in tours and friends of friends who are interested in the industry and the ones who come back and get jobs are the ones who are persistent and who are very clear about what it is that they want to do. They ask the questions and they follow up. If they took the time in school to actually animate some of the work that they did, I don't think it matters if the work that they did was good.
Who cares, I mean, school is there to fall on your face and make work that you may not necessarily be proud of. I mean, who cares? I'm never going to look back at the stuff I did in school. I don't think that that's important. It's a means to an end. I don't even want to look at the stuff I did four years ago, five years ago, last year. Everybody's always moving forward. I think, in terms of somebody who wants to be an animator, or somebody who wants to do what it is that I do, I think it involves a lot of focus.
I think it involves somebody who likes details. I think that... you need to be ready to accept the fact you're going to make mistakes. I think you need to be prepared to take direction. You have to be patient because you do the work, and then you don't see it till three months later. You need to go back and redo some of the work that you do.
You need to look for a mentor. You need to accept the fact that somebody will often redirect what it is that you've done, and you may have to redo it. That's okay, because just yesterday, I was looking at somebody's work, and I looked at it and I thought, "I've never seen that before, "and that's really interesting." We're gonna let it go and see how it comes back from overseas, from the studio, Saerom, that does the actual animation. We'll see what it looks like.
It could be fantastic, you know? If it looks great, I'm going to fold it into the repertoire and we're going to use it again and again. If it doesn't work, it's a failure, and it's my responsibility, but that's great. I've learned something, you know? I'm always gonna be learning something. I think, if you're interested in doing this job, I think any job really in this industry, or maybe any job in general, I think you have to be willing to accept the fact that you can't be in control of the outcome.
I'm always learning. I just took a course on storyboarding, just three weeks ago. I just finished a course last night on children's book illustration. I took a course that ended maybe three months ago, another course on how to use the program Storyboard Pro, on storyboarding, because I work with storyboard artists and I want to be able to understand what it is that they do.
I give them feedback on the boards that they give to us and there are certain things that I need, but I feel that if I'm going to ask them to do things, I need to understand what it is that they do. So, I'm always going to school. I think that's my responsibility, to look to see what's out there. I'm always going to get confronted with new equipment and new programs and I have to change with the industry. There's a whole new generation of people coming in that I'm going to be working with, and that I'll be, I guess mentoring.
So, it's my responsibility to change with them, because if we're going to make this work, then I need to understand what their expectations are for me, so that we can make this whole, we can make this, you know, situation work. I find inspiration from the people I work with. They blow my mind, they really do. That's such a ridiculous thing to say, they totally blew my mind (laughing).
Both of the revisionists that I work with are doing incredible work. One of them has a series of shorts that she's doing for Nickelodeon. She just sits down and puts her pen to Cintiq, and she does these storyboards that are hilarious. She just naturally, just one drawing leads to the next, and she makes herself laugh, which is great. She just shows these drawings to me that are hilarious and Nickelodeon was like, "Okay, I think we should make these into short films." She's got the ear of the two writers on our show, which are the executive producers of "Sanjay and Craig." They were like, "Let's, you know, let's get in on this.
"Let's get her to make these into shorts." So they helped her and now she's got these shorts that she's making for Nickelodeon. That's really exciting, and then the other revisionist, it's like everybody has a secret life, I think in animation in general. They're musicians or they're puppeteers, or they're clothing designers, or they have a secret pop-up restaurant. I don't even know what I'm talking about. Something like that, you know? Or they're shoe designers or they run a faction of Vans shoes where they travel all over the world and make murals.
You just scratch a little bit beneath the surface and they've got something going on that's really amazing. They're not just okay at it, they're really good at it, but you have to poke at them and ask them. It's like, "Where did that crocheted thing come from?" They're like, "Well, I made it while I was sleeping." I was like, "What did you do when you were awake?" "Well, do you see that thing out there?" I don't know, it's just amazing. The other revisionist is an extraordinary game player, she just watches out of one eye.
She watches people playing games, and I'm like, "I don't understand." I'm aware now of the fact that there's this whole world of people who videotape themselves, oh videotape, that just dated me. Who put themselves up, the YouTube channels where they have followers who watch them play video games all day. I'm like, "Okay." She's one of them, I'm like, "Okay, so that's your secret life." She's like, "Oh I have many secret lives." That it's never ending.
That's what I've discovered. So, I think that's something that I try to, like when I do teach, when I'm in the classroom at CalArts, I think that what I try to impart to the students, it's like, you have to understand that I've been doing this for a really long time, but it's never ending. It's a path that just doesn't end. It's like, you're going to school, I'm going to school. I hope that this doesn't end.
I hope that when you do secure a job that you'll continue to learn. So maybe you aren't going to physically enter a classroom again, but you are going to look to the people around you and be inspired to go and continue to learn, no matter what it is that you decide to do. However that path of knowledge, however it manifests itself. If you decide that you want to learn how to build a home out of a container box, or you want to learn how to build a sustainable garden for yourself, or whatever it is that you decide to do, or you're going to live remotely and work, which is entirely possible that you're going to live on the other side of the world and you're going to work, you're going to telecommute.
How are you going to survive? You're going to teach yourself how to do that. The world is changing and so you have to change with it, so you're always going to be learning. You just have to change with things. You think you're stuck, now, you're not. Stop with this sort of set way that you see the world. It's going to change again and it's going to continue to change, and so just be prepared for that.