Archive for the ‘advice’ Category

Friday, December 18th, 2015

Advice: Business of Art


I see a lot of people starting out in animation focusing on the business aspects… creating lots of “product”, pitching show ideas to studios, worrying about people who might ask them to work for free on a personal project, posting ads to groups like this to try to get viewers… I’ve seen people who do all these sorts of things for almost a decade, and still aren’t any further along to success as an animated filmmaker than the day they started.

You don’t become successful in animation by having the “right package”. You become successful because you have the “right stuff”. You can sit down and really animate, do layout, design backgrounds… you have skills in constructive drawing, compositional principles, perspective, anatomy and life drawing, color theory, painting techniques…

Specialization aimed at a specific job title is the absolute WORST thing you can do in school. I went to design school to study graphic design. They taught me type speccing, paste up, how to use a linotype machine… A couple of years later the Macintosh came out and everything I learned was obsolete. The only classes that I still use today are the basic ones… Design 101, Color 101, Drawing 101. Going to a trade school to learn art or filmmaking is a good way to be replaced by outsourcing.

If you want to be an artist, LEARN TO BE AN ARTIST FIRST. With a solid foundation in the fundamentals, you can learn any trade quickly on your own time or on the job. You don’t have to pay a school thousands of dollars to make you an unemployable specialist in a field that is now being done in India or China.

Instead of putting sweat equity into a business opportunity, it’s a lot better to put that effort into investing into yourself and your skills. But that takes hard work, humility, experimentation, and a solid plan for self education. Make personal films, but CHALLENGE YOURSELF. Don’t just fill time quotas. That’s the hard way to become successful for sure, but it’s a sure road for advancement. “Playing the game” and “doing business” can go in circles forever and get you nowhere.

Saturday, November 21st, 2015

How To Become An Animator In An Infinite Number of Really Hard Lessons


I was asked in PM today a question I always get asked… “How do I become an animator?” Here is my answer…

There are a lot of people in the world that want to be cartoonists and animators. More people than there are jobs for all of them. The ones that succeed are the ones that really study hard to master the fundamentals of art, not just learn a specific style. Styles change but the ability to draw volumetrically and design with taste and use color well will never go out of style.

Also, the people who continue to work in cartooning year after year are the ones who never stop studying and trying to improve their skills. Learning is a lifelong process. It isn’t something that just happens at school. You need to identify the skills you are lacking and put together a plan for yourself on how to achieve them. The animation business has changed tremendously in the 30 years I’ve been working in it, and I’ve seen plenty of my coworkers left in the dust because they weren’t willing or able to make the changes necessary to keep up with the times.

A lot of people desperately want to hear that there is a shortcut to become an artist… Go to such and such a school and you are guaranteed a job in the animation industry. If you just learn to draw the formula for anime… or Disney princesses… or wacky… or angular flat, you can find a job on shows with that style. They find out the hard way when they move to Los Angeles that none of that is true. You have to be a versatile artist with marketable skills, formulas and diplomas alone won’t cut it.

Thursday, October 29th, 2015


…the voice boomed out around the entire hall. The legendary MGM animator, Irv Spence had just been handed the Winsor McCay Award for lifetime achievement in animation. Without saying a word, he set the trophy back on the podium and strode out to the lip of the stage, where he addressed the audience hollering at the top of his lungs…


A nervous chuckle spread throughout the crowd of professional animators in attendance.


Irv Spence
Irv Spence

I was just a kid volunteer at that time, standing in the back row, but Spence’s words shocked me. What did he mean? A few years later, I was lucky enough to find out, working as Ralph’s right hand man on his last animated feature. I remember Ralph talking about Spence. “Spence is an old lion, Stevie, and old lions deserve respect.” I could tell that Ralph respected Spence a great deal. I also have tremendous respect for old lions myself. Today, I get to do what Spence did, and I couldn’t be more delighted.


Ralph Bakshi
Several years ago at the San Diego Comic-Con, I had the honor of hosting an interview with Ralph Bakshi. Now, you’ve probably seen this video before, but watch it again. This “old lion” has something important to say to the kid animators in the back row. Watch Ralph take my question and hit it out of the park…

Here we are seven years later, and something amazing has happened. Ralph took his own advice and gathered together a small group of people, got a computer and made his own film. Not just any film. A film that looks and moves and sounds and feels like no other film ever made before. He made a film that could never be made at the big studios. He made a personal film where each and every frame reflects his own artistry and point of view.

It’s called “Last Days of Coney Island”, and if you haven’t ponied up the four bucks to watch it yet, watch it now with Ralph’s words at the 2008 Comic-Con fresh in your mind.

Last Days of Coney Island
Last Days of Coney Island

Last Days of Coney Island at Vimeo

This film is doubly important, not just because it’s a great film, but because of what it represents… This is a put up or shut up moment… an old lion issuing a challenge for young animators. Ralph didn’t just share his years of experience and offer sage advice, he went out and did it himself to prove it can be done.

Ralph has done that throughout his career. In the late 60s animation was dying from rehashed ideas and complete lack of passion for the art form. The work was being shipped overseas to studios who cared even less than the studio shipping out the work. Animated features had become an animal devouring itself… remakes of remakes of remakes. Every feature looked just like the last one. Sound familiar?

Last Days of Coney Island
Ralph Bakshi

Enter Bakshi… He grabbed onto the art form with both hands and banged out pictures that were personal. He told stories that spoke about issues that were real and relevant. Ralph found great animators like Irv Spence who had animated the same old cats and mice for decades, and he offered them the chance to reinvent themselves as ARTISTS creating something NEW and EXCITING. He did the same thing for the “Saturday Morning Ghetto” in the early 80s. He led the way, encouraging artists in the field to take back their art form and make it something REAL. For a while other people followed his lead, but ultimately, everything slid back into the comfort of corporate franchises and well marketed mediocrity.

The difference between Ralph and everyone else in animation is that Ralph doesn’t just sit back and complain about how lousy TV animation is and how every animated feature looks exactly the same as the last one, he goes out and PROVES that it’s possible to do much, much more.

Well, he just proved it again.

Last Days of Coney Island
Ralph Bakshi

Seven years ago, Ralph told all of us to go out and use computers and a small, tight group of talented partners, and make our own films with our own fresh ideas. Today, Ralph has debuted his film on Vimeo to prove he’s not just blowing hot air.

Here comes your kick in the pants… Seven years later, where is your film? Consider “Last Days of Coney Island” your wake up call to get started on something for yourself. Show the audience something new… something of yourself… something REAL.

Ralph is an artist… Compare “Last Days of Coney Island” to what other great animators have done in their late 60s and 70s. You know what I’m talking about… I don’t have to name the names. The tired old men treading the same old paths, just not as confidently or with nearly as much passion. When some people get old, their art gets old with them.

Not so with old lions like Spence and Ralph. BE A YOUNG LION DAMMIT!

Many thanks to the Bakshi family for their helpfulness and generosity, and to our fantastic videographer, JD Mata for capturing this important interview.