Monday, April 20, 2009
I'm Not a Designer But I Play One on TV
Why have I stayed in NY... instead of "heading west young man?" It's an interesting question to ponder, although its rare that I think about this. I never set out to be a booster of the NY animation scene. I was born here. My dad earned a terrific living as top Advertising Art director and executive (at one point he was even a vice president at Benton & Bowles), so I saw one could survive and thrive working in the commercial arts in the NY area. There was only one thing against me. No, it wasn't the anemic NY animation industry. It was my own underdeveloped talents. Spending four years at SVA didn't change that, and that was no fault to SVA. It was my own stubborn refusal to work hard enough to challenge myself. In fact, I didn't even know I had made that choice. But, choices are often made silently, aren't they?
When I was privileged with the opportunity to work at Michael Sporn's studio it was both at once a rarified experience as well as typical to New York animation. Rare in that Michael's studio (then and now) tackled animation from beginning to end. No outsourcing like much of the production at MTV, Jumbo, Curious, 4Kids, Scholastic, World Leaders, (and others that have since come and gone). Here was a place to learn it all from top to bottom, because of a supportive boss like Michael and the wonderful staff that followed his lead. I soon had the opportunity to try my hand at storyboards, designs, animation, writing...all within the two year period I worked at his studio.
While this would have indeed been rare to get this variety of experience at some NY studios in such a short amount of time, it WAS representative of a key an aspect of NY animation. Namely; flexibility. Getting to do different things on different projects. That's something I have never taken for granted. It still tickles me that I get to do that.
No, I'm not a character designer in the Phil Rynda sense (he is amazing, by the way.) Just check out http://philrynda.blogspot.com/
But, by being in NYC animation I get design opportunties just the same. I recently whipped out the above 3 designs after sesame workshop hired me to animate a 30 second spot. They wanted to see lots of different design approaches so I spent two or three days exploring some possible styles. They loved one particular design (not shown above) so much that they asked me to just animate that character as it was drawn. These fun little gigs, they seem very "NYC animation" to me. It's part of our blend of the independent and the commercial. Michael Sporn, his disciples, and those of the other NY botique-style animation studios (Buzzco, JJs, Asterisk, Wachtenheim and Marianetti, etc) are the true face of NY animation. They are the survivors that remain as the big studios come and go.
So, in NY animation we find ourselves with a happy problem. What to call oneself? Am I a director? A filmmaker? A designer? A writer? An author? A teacher? An animator? A jack of all trades but a master of none? To some, I'm simply the president of ASIFA-East. But, in NY animation, one doesn't have to choose one label. And, by some absurd turn of fate, this formerly raw SVA graduate is now paid to do all of these things (well, except the president of ASIFA-East thing). Why have I stayed in NY? Where else could one have such a career? And, best of all, I could list more than a hundred people just like me. Only chances are, they will be better designers.