Sunday, November 22, 2009
Staying in the Game
There's nothing that can tell you where or when career opportunities will arise. Some times you're not ready for them and some times someone else will tell you you're not ready. In either case, there's something to be said for hanging in there (baby) and developing the skills that would have gotten you the job.
In 2004, when there were only a few weeks left to go on my job directing animation on "Blue's Clues," a friend gave me the tip that Scholastic had just organized their own in-house studio to handle a big series order of their new show "Maya & Miguel." The show's producer, who was from Los Angeles, had to quickly familiarize herself with New York's animation talent pool and staff the show from scratch. I got a cool reception from her at my interview because my digital animation experience wouldn't be useful for her X-Sheet-based traditional production model of sending all the animation overseas. She asked me if I had any experience with X-Sheets. I told her I had timed some sheets for a direct-to-video project at Michael Sporn's studio that had been animated out of house. How long I was assigned to the sheets? Three or four weeks, I replied. That wasn't enough experience, so instead she offered me the opportunity to take a storyboard test. In looking through the model packs of characters and backgrounds, and a sample of a finished board, I realized the job wasn't going to be a good fit. I didn't have the skills to draw the cinematic angles with complex perspectives that seemed to be in every scene. Slightly disappointed, I politely declined and thought that was the end of it. No harm done. It would be someone else's great opportunity.
After "Blue's Clues" ended, I was lucky enough to land a few months of freelance work right away. During that time a producer of an 11-minute preschool TV pilot rang me up and asked if I had any experience doing X-Sheets. Déjà vu. Not setting my expectations too high, I gave him the same answer I had given the "Maya & Miguel" producer, but in this case I was hired on the spot. The pilot turned out great and now I had 11 minutes of sheet directing to my credit.
A few months later, I got another call from "Maya & Miguel." Former MTV Animation producer Machi Tantillo had replaced the previous producer on the series and she needed help checking X-Sheets before the shows could be sent overseas. I was hired to check a half-hour episode and tried to go above and beyond what was asked. When I presented my work, series director Tony Kluck noticed my extra effort. He was particularly happy with the eyebrow and eye acting I had added. They gave me several more episodes to check and even offered me a full-time job as the show's assistant director. In the end, I didn't take that position (or a similar job on Scholastic's other series, "Clifford the Big Red Dog") because I accepted a directing position on a Flash series for Cartoon Pizza.
It was more than gratifying to go from being unqualified to qualified within a six-month period, and to know that I got there by hanging in there and proving I could.