Tell us a little bit about yourself: your background,
why did you choose to do what you are doing now?

Well, I grew up in an unusual household. My father wrote for computer magazines, so there was a fair amount of both computers and software-including graphics software-lying around for me to play with at a very early age. I quickly decided, for reasons I can't recall, that I was going to grow up to be an animator, and a computer animator at that (this was way before Toy Story brought computer animation to the general consciousness-I mean, I must have been seven or eight years old at the time). So I set out to do exactly that, and eventually I did. I have to give my parents a lot of credit-they never even hinted that I search for a more lucrative line of work, or go to college, or any of the things parents usually say-in fact, they were the ones who suggested I leave school after the 8th grade, and my father currently runs Anzovin Studio with me.

How old are you? (don’t answer, if you don’t want to)
22.

Are you ‘formally trained’ or self-educated,
and what are the pros and cons of either education
in your opinion?

I'm about as self-educated as you can get. I quit Junior High after the 8th grade. I have no High School diploma, no GEDs, no SATs, and certainly no college degree of any kind. This worked out really well for me, because the animation industry is a complete meritocracy. It's true here, as it is in few other business, that nobody cares what's on your diploma or even if you have one.

But I don't pretend to know whether this would be a good path for anyone else to follow. I know I chafed in a school environment, chained to an
over-structured, committee-designed system that did nothing to develop my creativity. But not everyone feels that way--there are people who really need the structure to give them direction. So, the pros and cons of either system really depends on who you are.

How did you start, what was your first job
and how old were you then?

Well, the first job I was ever paid money for was an illustration for Presentations magazine, for one of my father's articles. This was when I was 14, in January of '96. It showed some vaguely Pixar-ish guy (this was right after the first Toy Story was released) juggling a bunch of laptops and tapes and stuff. It was pretty awful.

But my first professional job was a little bit before that. I think that Windowsworld, the short I did for Specular International with Inifini-D that started this whole mess off, would be considered a professional job by normal standards (I wasn't paid but I was an intern). By any kind of objective standards, it was also pretty awful. However, it looked amazing to a bunch of people at the time because they'd never seen anybody even attempt real character animation with that software. Sometimes I feel nostalgic about those times - the days when just making a character that had actual limbs and hands and stuff and moved with some kind of intention was enough to make people's eyes wide. There was so much ignorance of the basics of character animation (and the software was so primitive) that even the most rudimentary achievement looked amazing. Today, of course, you actually have to be good at it.

What is your creative process: how do you start,
when do you stop?

Hell, I don't know! I know an idea's working when I suddenly see it in my head, fully-formed. This sudden creative epiphany thing is totally subconscious, I have no idea how it works. Then the hard part is trying to get that out of my head and onto a computer screen. That's really hard, sometimes grueling, and I do whatever looks like it'll work.

Do you have a special creative or workflow trick/method
that you’d like to share?

The most important thing for an animator to learn is how to look at the latest test render of a shot you've been working on for hours or days, and then shift your perceptions so that you can see what's wrong with it. Beginning animators put down the keyframes they think they need, and then sort of look lost. You need to develop the ability to look at the shot and go, "this motion doesn't look good because there's no weight shift when he takes a step, his arm movement needs more snap, the spline overshoot on his head makes it look unmotivated, and his fingers are all hitting their pose on the same frame." And then, when you've fixed all this stuff, you need to do it all over again, and find a whole new set of things that are wrong. When you can really do that easily, animation becomes much less of a struggle, and you can see the life of the character take shape almost magically under your hands. It's all a perceptual thing, and one that I'm still trying to learn myself.

Showing it to other people is really important too, of course. They are likely to pick up on things you've missed. But you can't rely on that - animation directors don't want to see something in dailies which everyone has to pick apart and analyze. What they want to see is something that makes them say, "yeah, that piece of animation really works!"

Do you work primarily as a freelancer
or permanently in a studio, what do you prefer and why?

Well, actually, I kind of do both at the same time. My studio is a satellite studio, meaning that we usually work by "orbiting" larger studios and picking up the overflow work from their large projects. Currently our biggest client, ReelFX, is currently keeping me on retainer, and when a job comes down the pipe that's too big for me to handle alone, the rest of my studio gets pulled in and we tackle it together. So does that make me a freelancer with a studio attached, or the principal of a studio with a direct line to another company? Hard to say.

Do you work internationally, how do you do it
and what are benefits and pitfalls?

I haven't worked much internationally, but I think that's just coincidence. If I did, it wouldn't be much different from how I always work, except that the client would be in a different timezone.

What is your favourite city and why?
I was born in New York City, and while I've never lived there, I feel a strange connection to the place.

What are you working on now?
Professionally, I'm about to start the Action Man movie, which is basically the British version of GI-Joe. It's basically like doing GI-Joe again, but with cool British accents this time!

In my personal work, after a long stretch of not very much in the short film department, I have three that are in various stages of development. The first is actually a live action short I directed Robert Rodriguez-style called "Werewolves Ate my Zombie." There is indeed a werewolf and a zombie in it, and Michael Haynack takes them all on! (I realize that you don't have the faintest idea who Michael Haynack is, but when this film comes out, you will. I think he'll be the next Bruce Willis.) All the footage is in the can and it's all been edited, but sound editing is still in progress and then there's all the effects work. So I'm not quite sure exactly when that will see the light of day.

I've just begun working on a new animated short, which may or may not be called "The Duel." I'm trying to get a unusual flat-color look with this, something that doesn't look like conventional CG rendering and doesn't try to imitate drawn animation either. I'm getting really excited about trying to convey motion using flat areas of color instead of my usual highly-lit style. The closest thing I can think of would be Samurai Jack.

And the other short I'm working on....I think I'd better not talk about that too much, it's too far off. But it will be the biggest thing I've done, whenever I finally get around to it.

How do you celebrate completion of a project?
I sleep.

Who or what inspires you and does it influences your work?
So many different things inspire me, I honestly don't know how I'd narrow the list down. But, I'll try to get some of the bigger ones. When I was a little child, I became obsessed with Dr. Suess, which explains a lot of things about me. Also the Muppets, which I am still inspired by (no one has ever managed to top The Great Muppet Caper for sheer fun weirdness).

The films of Terry Gillaim are very inspirational, especially Fear and Loathing in Los Vegas, which practically is an animated film (come to think about it, an animated Hunter S. Thompson would be really cool....). His extreme wide angle camera work really inspired some of the stuff I'm doing now.

Neil Gaiman's Sandman. There are too many good things to say about this work, so I'm going to limit myself to one. It's so easy, when writing about characters who are immensely powerful, like Dream or Death or Lucifer, to make it a story about the contests between those powers. Basically, a superhero story (which is exactly what you'd expect from a character named The Sandman, right?) But no, what we get here is something so much greater then that. Something that uses mythology and the supernatural to create a world so strange and vast it's almost more then you can do to take it all in. Rather like our own, in that way.

I'm really inspired by the animation of Glen Keane, primarily his depictions of Tarzan and the Beast. Here is a guy who can put so much life into a character's movement, I'm surprised they don't burst. I think I remember a cleanup artist at the Disney studio saying that it's as if Michalengelo had become an animator. That's a pretty good way to sum it up. He's directing a CG film now, which is so sad. Glen Keane has this unique talent that I doubt will transfer to CG. On the other hand, if anyone can make it work, maybe he can.

What excites you in today’s design/animation trends?
The ability of CG animation to play with the real world in a way that was never possible before. Chris Landreth's "Ryan" is a great example. Here is a film in which the characters are very good semi-realistic depictions of real people, but who have enormous holes through their heads representing lasting emotional wounds. The effect this produces wouldn't work in live action, it wouldn't work that well in traditional animation, but it works beautifully in CG, and it's an amazing film. Gollum being another great example. A character who is far too wasted, grizzled, and twisted to be human, but who moves with a surprising life and vitality and personality. His "realism" enhances the effect by making this impossible character seem possible (I put " realism" in quotes because I think the term is misleading--no one is ever going to mistake Gollum for a real actor. Rather, what CG characters can reach for is believability, which is an entirely different thing from realism. When people actually go after realism itself, I cringe. See below).

What you don’t like in today’s design/animation trends?
A lot of people (especially suits who run the American animation industry) are saying that traditional drawn animation is dead. First of all, this is blatantly untrue. Just look at Lilo and Stitch! Traditional animation can be as lucrative as any other kind, as long as you tell a good story with it. The reason why traditional animated features in America have been such bombs in recent years is that the story or the marketing sucked. And second of all, if it was true, it would be a crying shame. Drawn animation is really a distinct artform from CG, and very beautiful in it's own right. They thought photography was going to kill painting too, y'know. They were dead wrong.

I also don't like the trend of people who don't really understand animation trying to make overly "realistic" CG films, thinking motion capture is going to solve all their problems, and ending up with creepy, lifeless, dead-faced characters. Final Fantasy being the obvious example. It looks like Polar Express is going to follow in its footsteps, but I guess I can't tell from the trailers and I hope not. People have to pay attention to the uncanny valley effect, or their characters are going to end up looking like they came from a George Romero movie.

Have you ever fell asleep during a meeting with the client,
why, and what happened next?

Nope, never done that.

Did you ever said ‘no’ to a client, why and
do you still have that client?

I have a problem with saying no to clients. I don't do it even when I really, really should.

Do you play computer games?
What are you playing now?

I don't play computer games. They're way too time consuming and addiction-forming. I do, however, play tabletop roleplaying games. In fact, at Anzovin Studio we have a weekly studio D&D game, in which I play Inigo Vivaldi, the dashing Jash swordsman with a wit that's as sharp as his deadly rapier and a past that's as dark as his night-black cloak.

What do you read in bed?
Currently, Louis McMaster Bujold's Miles Vorkosigan saga. Also, I have recently have inexplicably been reading the collected writings of Lester Bangs.

What are your plans for the future?
Er....I plan to become a great film auteur who's seminal works will define a generation and bring joy to millions of people.

How many hours a day do you spend on the computer?
I don't want to know.

What is your favorite food?
Strawberries.

What music do you like to work to?
The Rolling Stones. When I'm on a deadline, I like to play Gimme Shelter.

Apart from Google, what is your favourite
website at the moment?

Aint it Cool News, mostly because of the comic reviewers, who refer to themselves as "The Talkback League of @$$holes." That's verbatim, by the way, that actually use the @ and $ signs. Where else are you going to see someone review the latest issue of Captain America by interviewing Saddam Hussein? He turns out to be quite the comics geek, but I guess he had do something while holed up in that bunker.

If you had to choose a different profession,
what would you be right now and why?

I'd like to be a consulting detective, but only if I could live in the late 19th century, when it was cool to be a consulting detective.

What image is on your desktop?
Hmmmm....I moved this text window aside, and underneath it I see some kind of streaky blue thing. Interesting. I never really noticed it before.

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