Join Rob Garrott for an in-depth discussion in this video Part 3: Getting started as an artist, part of Artists and Their Work: Conversations about Mograph, VFX, and Digital Art.
- So how did you get started? You mention you started off in animation, but how did you get into that? - Well I grew up on a goat farm in Southern Ontario, Canada. I was lucky enough to have a Guidance Counselor when I was in grade 12 that turned me on to Sheridan College. You got to remember this was before we had the internet, we didn't have DVDs, there was no "Making Of" books, I always say it's like when you realize that babies come from other people.
- Yeah. - As opposed to just springing out of eggs or being delivered by storks. The fact that somebody actually makes cartoons was a big revelations and not something I ever thought I was going to be able to participate in because it was something I love, but it wasn't like I ever expected it to be a career, so my Guidance Counselor said, "You should check out this school." Because I was always the art kid, and I was in my last year of High School and I was in that point where (silly noises) In that point where you ... you start to compromise.
I was going to be an Architect, I was going -- you know, I was going to do something else with my life and my career. Not that being an Architect isn't a great job, I mean a worthy profession, it's just i'm an idiot, so I needed, I think finding a job where I can be a stupid guy and not be serious all the time and not have to wear a tie and be ... so what i'm going to do is i'm going to snap to a wide shot. - Okay. When you were, you're on a goat farm-- - Yeah, okay-- - You discover Sheridan College.
- So I was the art kid, that's how I stopped getting my ass kicked in High School by drawing tattoos and doing band covers for the popular kids, so that was how I identified myself. My Guidance Counselor said, "You should go check out this school, "you're the only art kid, go check out this school." I went down there and I checked it out. It was like I met my people. It was people like me from all over the Province. - Right. - Around the world actually, it was a very international program. Very respected and renouned for what they did.
I mean for how they trained students and how they got film makers that don't do industry. I applied and luckily I got in, and the year I got in was the same year The Lion King opened. - Oh wow! - So 2D animation went kaboom! It's like Dreamworks opened up and Warner Bros and Paramount not Paramount, Universal. But all these studios were suddenly kicking it. I'm going to change, i'm going to make you smaller. I'll cut out all this other stuff as I get to comping. - Sure sure.
- I think it's funnier if you're small. Yeah, so I applied to Sheridan, went into Sheridan, didn't know a thing about animation, didn't know about flipping, didn't know about ... peg bars and bullets, cameras, and learned bouncing ball and went through the whole thing. Best three years of my life. Not just for the school, but for the people I met at the school. My lifelong friends, and it was just that collaboration of being with people who are like minded and who want to grow, you know? I mean we're all a bunch of nerds and here we are participating in a team sport of animation.
(laughing) - That's so me! - It was amazing, it was a wonderful three years of my life and then I got a job, actually got a job right out of school up in Ottowa working on TV stuff and the same time as that happened I was offered an opportunity to go down to the states to work on a feature. There was actually a couple of opportunities, but I chose ... 20th Century Fox because I always wanted to work with Don Bluth, who did, Secret of NIMH was one of those movies that was a kapow moment from when I was a kid.
(laughs) (imitating) Whyyyy? - Did you find success right away or did you struggle at all? - This studio system is great because it's really set up to teach you how to be an artist. I think the one thing that we've lost in our CG age is the mentorship that was such a part of the old timey process.
To be able to draw the characters and manipulate the characters it took time, it took experience. You had to learn how to be an artist and an actor and how to be in the room and how to take notes. The mentorship process was fantastic and I just, I loved the learning and I love the experience of working with all these other artists. Then of course it all went downhill because the 2D industry collapsed. - Right, right. - I'm going to cut to close up of your face here.
I was forced to figure out how I was going to fit into the brave new world we were all heading into with CG film making and you either adapt to learn the software and become a CG animator. I love to draw, drawing has always been a passion, so I had just had a daughter, a kid. When I say I had a kid I mean my wife had a kid and I stood beside her while she pushed it out into the world. We, the idea of going back home was very appealing at that time.
As opposed to fighting my way into LA and getting into that scene I went back to Canada. I was working TV up here in Toronto. - Doing boards for television shows? - Not doing boards yet. Doing mostly design. I was a 2D Animator trying to find animation work and there was no animation work at the time. I was doing a lot of design stuff, not really enjoying my life. Through circumstances, roundabout way, a friend of mine was working a show and he ran into a problem where he was needing a board done.
I'd never boarded before. Gave me a call, I said sure because you say yes to everything when you're that age. I took it on and it nearly killed me there was so much work, but I felt so alive because it was like animation again. Come moving drawings and i'm progressing things and i'm timing things out even though it's different timed, i'm timing bigger chunks of the story, it's the same idea where it's all about rhythm and it's all about flow. How many drawing I put down will dictate how fast everything is. (imitating) Nooooo! Cut to there -- Ahhhh! This is where you're going to rage out.
I'm going to put a camera pull on this so we're going to pull back as you're starting to transform. - Excellent. - Back to the story, long story short, I got into doing boards in Canada here and I had a very good life and I was very happy, but there was part of me that wanted to see if I could punch in the feature ring again. Some of it's ego, some of it is curiosity.
I just wonder what it would be like to do this job on a big budget feature and how did that feel. My wife, she had one stipulation when we got married that we were never going to live in LA. Back in the 90s there was wildfires and riots and that was a big part of why we went to Arizona. - It was a difficult time. - I was new to the internet and I was looking on a site, I think it was AWN and they had a job posting for Sony Animation.
I'm just going to apply, i'm just going to send my stuff down there and see what happens. Lo and behold, they call me back, they wanted me to do a test and I did the test and then they call me down for an interview. Every step of the phase I thought I was blowing it, but something read through and they decided to take a chance on this young guy from Canada and one day I got a call from them and they said, "Will you come down?" I said yes, and then hung up the phone to try to figure out how I was going to tell Amy that.
My wife was pregnant again. - Oh wow. - Our second daughter was coming, so I was able to put off that move until she was born. But i'm a terrible Father which is most Hollywood people are terrible people they just, they'll do anything for the job. My daughter was born and three weeks later I moved to California. - Wow, three weeks after. - Yeah, it was crazy. That was another great time in my life because I was suddenly doing something I love story boarding with an amazing group of artists and we were really small. When I started at Sony there was only twelve people there.
- What was the first project that you worked on there? - Open Season. - Oh, that's a wonderful movie too. - Their first movie out of the gate. - Have you ever hit a point where you felt like your drawing skills were not up to the challenge? Was there some type-- - Every day. (laughs) Every day. - Have you hit a scene that you're just like, "I have no idea what i'm going to do here." - Sometimes what you do is you go for a walk. - Okay. - You know what I mean? You get out of your own head space.
- You get drawer's block. - Yeah, all the time. Every artist does. There's sweet spots where if you hit flow at three in the morning you don't go to bed, you stay up and you keep drawing. You know what I mean? Then the next morning at nine o'clock when you're supposed to start work it may not be there. You know what I mean? That day you're fighting it all day long.
- Nick Campbell, motion graphics artist, photographer, and entrepreneur
- Marc Potocnik, designer and 3d artist
- Tim Clapham, VFX artist and educator
- Alan Torres and Stephen Morton (Cantina Creative), design and visual effects artists
- Aaron Limonick, concept artist
- Mike Lowes, 3D animator and technical director
- Lorcan O'Shanahan, motion graphics artist
- Scott Keating, 3D artist and illustrator
- Clear Menser, visual effects artist
- John Robson, motion graphics artist and filmmaker
- Grant Miller, VFX supervisor
- Tomasz Opasinski, creative director and movie poster artist
Watch for fresh insights into the careers and creative processes of these working professionals.