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Directors of awards-contending animated features weigh in on the key moments in making their movies and careers. By Karen Idelson.

Directing a feature film is a life-long goal for many animators — one made even sweeter when your film has a pole position in the annual awards race. Once again, we’ve tracked down the directors of some of the year’s top animated features to get their views on their films, their careers and the business of animation.

Roger Allers

Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet

Roger Allers

Roger Allers

Key moment of inspiration: It goes way back. Early in my college years I was given the book. I’d met a new friend and we started reading the book to each other. And I had a change of consciousness, an intense feeling of being connected to everything. It sounds corny to even talk about it, but it was just an intense feeling. I’ve carried that with me my whole life. So, when I got the call saying we’d like you to come and direct and write on this thing, I jumped at it. I really was excited to do it. It’s always held a very warm spot in my heart. I felt like, if somebody else took this opportunity, I’d be so disappointed.

Toughest challenge in making this movie: One of the biggest challenges was coming up with the story, because Kahlil’s book didn’t have much of a story. It’s just a book about someone who can’t return home and for some reason sees a boat one day and knows that it’s his, and on the way to the harbor, people ask him questions and ask him to speak on things. That’s really all there is. So, using that as a jumping off point, I tried to nurture a story out of that. And Salma (Hayek, who produced the movie) had given me the challenge when we first spoke that she wanted this to be a film for all ages from 5 years old to 95 years old, so that small children could take from it what they will and travel with it. So, I think stitching the whole thing together was the biggest challenge.

Pivotal scene: One scene that really made me feel more secure about the movie and the tone of the movie was the scene where Almitra is hiding from him and she has sneaked into his house, and I came up with the idea of him saying, “Is that a mouse?” I could feel the balance between these characters and there was a sense of tenderness. There was also a sense of her being drawn out of her self-protective shell by the gentleness and the directness of this man. Like a little animal, she was drawn out into the light. When I got that to work right, I felt confident to go from there.

Favorite animated movie or character of all time: The movie that made want to become an animator was Peter Pan and the character that made me want to become an animator was Captain Hook. I loved Captain Hook and I loved that he was a combination of villainy and comedy. As an animator, one of my favorite characters to ever work on was Ursula the sea witch in The Little Mermaid. I did the sequence where she sings “Poor Unfortunate Souls” and it was so much fun to work on with that kind of German cabaret rhythm going on.

Career beginnings: Probably I was like 5 years old when I was watching those films and saying I wanted to work on them. I believed in it. I believed you could fly. I would try to act out these things and it would usually end disastrously. I loved that idea of creating a magical world. I was an only child, so I spent lots of time imagining these things by myself. And when I was 8, I sent away for a Disney animation kit because they sold them and I just started doing it. I was an obsessive geek child.

Best advice: By the way, I’d be so thrilled if someone saw The Prophet and wanted to do this because of that, because I’m so thankful to those animators who inspired me. I would say, don’t give up. If you really want to do it, don’t give up. Try anything. Work with anyone on anything. As soon as I started working on features, I worked for eight years before anything I worked on made it to the screen. So, it can be a discouraging business for some. If you really want it, you just have to keep going for it.

Kyle Balda

Minions

Roger Allers

Roger Allers

Key moment of inspiration: A key moment of inspiration for me was seeing Pixar’s Luxo Jr. It was the first time I understand the power of animation to make people project human qualities and relationships on nonhuman objects. The fact that we can have empathy for these little lamps is an amazing achievement, and animation makes that possible.

Toughest challenge in making the movie: There are many, but one of the most interesting “toughest challenges” for me on any movie is introducing the main character. This will establish how we feel about the character for the rest of the film, so everything is important, from the staging to the dialogue to the animation performance.

On the state of the animation business: I like that animation is being viewed more and more as another film media rather than just a genre. It’s had the reputation so long of being “for kids,” but it is truly a medium for all audiences.

Favorite animated movie or character of all time: I still love Milt Kahl’s performance of Shere Khan in The Jungle Book. His mastery of weight and timing and subtle acting is incredible.

Career beginnings: I went to CalArts for a couple years and after doing an internship at PDI, I was hired at ILM, where I worked on The Mask, Jumanji and Mars Attacks. After that I went to Pixar to work on A Bug’s Life, Monsters, Inc. and I was a directing animator on Toy Story 2. I spent a few years traveling around Europe and Asia teaching at film schools and consulting on animation projects before starting to work for Illumination Entertainment.

Best advice: If you want to learn to play piano or guitar, then you have to play the instrument. Having the instrument in your room every day as a pretty object will not make you a musician unless you practice. The same is true for animation. It requires practice. Years of practice. So stop talking about it and get started.

Mark Burton

Shaun the Sheep Movie

Mark Burton, Richard Starzak

Mark Burton, left, and Richard Starzak, right

Key moment of inspiration: Realizing that if we explored the relationship between Shaun and The Farmer, we had a father-son story we could build on.

Toughest challenge in making the movie: The lack of dialogue – it meant we had to come up with a simple but still engaging story.

Pivotal scene: For comedy, when Shaun takes The Flock into a posh restaurant – big slapstick laughs, after which the story takes a darker twist. For emotion, it’s when The Farmer, who has memory loss, rejects Shaun and chases him out of a hairdressers. There’s always a bit of howling in the cinema after that scene – but luckily, a happy ending is not far off.

On the state of the animation business: There’s plenty of good animation movies being made. The problem is finding a way to stand out in a crowded market. Releasing a stop-frame animation film with no dialogue is certainly one way, but perhaps not the easiest.

Favorite animated movie or character of all time: I loved the Disney and Warner Bros. stuff I grew up with, our very own Wallace & Gromit, and Toy Story, of course. But I prostrate myself before The Simpsons.

Career beginnings: Drawing and writing my own kid’s comic when I was a child. Despite years of scribbling cartoons, I only ever learnt, a) how to make someone look like they were frowning, and b) how to make a football look round. So I gave up drawing, but carried on writing and ended up doing it professionally for a British comic publisher.

Best Advice: Burton: Keep busy. And if you can’t keep busy, look busy

Richard Starzak

Shaun the Sheep Movie

Key moment of inspiration: As a child, Bugs Bunny, Road Runner, Daffy Duck. I wanted to make people laugh the way I laughed at these gems.

Toughest challenge in making the movie: The script, most definitely. A script without dialogue made it even tougher. We had to find a simple, elegant idea that wasn’t so simple that it would be boring or run out of steam.

Pivotal scene: One that was especially hard without dialogue: Shaun finds The Farmer, is rejected by him — then finds out the reason for the rejection is memory loss.

On the state of the animation business: It’s getting crowded in here!

Favorite animated movie or character of all time: Favorite character has to be Wile E. Coyote. I have many favorite films including Snow White, Pinocchio, Spirited Away and The Incredibles.

Career beginnings: I had found a camera at college with a single-frame facility, so I did lots of arty stop-frame experiments. On leaving college, I borrowed equipment and studio space to make a short film. Peter Lord and David Sproxton came to visit, and offered me some work!

Best advice: Never eat anything bigger than your head.

Pete Docter

Inside Out

Pete Docter

Pete Docter

Key moment of inspiration: It started with the idea to use emotions as characters. I remember thinking that I’d seen several movies that take place inside the body, or even the brain. What if, instead, we went inside the mind? Showing emotions, as characters seemed to offer the potential for what animation does best: strong, opinionated, caricatured personalities. I pitched the idea to the guys at work and they liked it. I remember Ronnie del Carmen said, “If it’s going to be about emotions, it had better be emotional.” That simple but wise statement took us on a conversation about our kids growing up, which really became the core of what the film was about.

Toughest challenge in making the movie: Everything! Characters, sets, props … . Since the film was set in the mind, there was nowhere to look for reference. It’s a rather abstract concept, and Ralph Eggleston and the art department really had their work cut out for them. Story was no picnic either – it was tricky to work out because the story itself was so tied to the architecture of the mind world. We had two simultaneous story lines going and they had to connect and affect each other. And even though the outside kid was unaware of what was going on inside, her decisions had to affect Joy and Sadness’ journey. We’d make these story changes, only to realize we had to redesign the whole set.

Pivotal scene: One of the very first scenes we had was where our lead emotion, Joy, fell into the Memory Dump. We knew it was the right place – it was the worst place for our character, since it meant she would be separated from her child. And we knew what Joy needed to learn. But it took us over three years to figure out how that scene should actually play. It was one of the first scenes we started with, and was literally the last one finished.

On the state of the animation business: It depends on what you’re in it for. Animated films have done pretty well at the box office over the last few years. But creatively, I think there’s always room to grow. We animators often whine that we’re relegated to the kids’ table, but often we bring that on ourselves. I think we could reach further, and be more sophisticated in our storytelling. Animation has such incredible potential. There are so many roads to explore, even within the realm of the traditional storytelling. And with animation, that’s just the beginning! Think about this: Fantasia was Walt Disney’s third feature film. Have we done anything that bold since 1940?

Favorite animated movie or character of all time: Dumbo is amazing; such charm and simplicity. My Neighbor Totoro is another favorite – beautifully done, and such amazing observation that went into the performances.

Career beginnings: I started by painting cels at a small animation production house in Edina, Minn. I’d made my own crappy short films in junior high, and now I was at a place where they actually made real animation! They were mostly mediocre commercials for banks and insurance companies, but still! I felt very lucky. And I still do.

Best advice: Make stuff! It’s easier than ever to make your own films. You’ve got to put in the time – it takes years to really get good at this stuff, and there are no short cuts. But if you love what you do, it will show up in your work.

Duke Johnson

Anomalisa

Duke Johnson

Duke Johnson

Key moment of inspiration: The key moment of inspiration for me came with reading the script for the first time and feeling genuinely moved.

Toughest challenge in making the movie: We had a vision for the type of performances we wanted and a style of animation that we hadn’t really seen before but we were extremely limited budgetarily when we began building the puppets. So, the first year of the production was all about finding creative solutions to our limitations while we scrambled to make improvements to our puppets.

Pivotal scene: The breakfast scene towards the end of the film has always felt special to me. It’s one of the first scenes we completed and when we screened it cut together for the crew, you could feel a shift take place in the tone of the production. Anomalisa was an extremely challenging shoot from the very beginning and everyone was worked to their capacity, but suddenly coming to work the next day didn’t seem so daunting. People really believed in what we were doing.

On the state of the animation business: I don’t really know much about the animation business, to be honest. I’ve always just tried to make things that interest me and hope that they find an audience.

Favorite animated movie or character of all time: The Little Mermaid is pretty hard to beat, and anything by Miyazaki.

Career beginnings: After seeing my AFI thesis film, my friend Dino Stamatopoulos invited me to direct an episode of his Adult Swim series Moral Orel. We had a good collaboration and continued to work together until we started our own studio, Starburns Industries, with Dan Harmon, in 2010, to produce the stop-motion episode of Community: “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas.”

Best advice: It can take a long time. What’s the saying? “It takes 10 years to become an overnight success.” It was more than 20 years for me from my first day in film school to the completion of my first feature. People sometimes ask me if I think film school is a necessity for becoming a filmmaker. Probably not, but what else are you going to do for 20 years?

Tim Johnson

Home

Tim Johnson

Tim Johnson

Key moment: The first would be in the discovery of the book, which I read out loud to my boys and sort of cheated on them and stayed up late and finished the book after tucking them in. The moment that almost made me literally kind of gasp with the emotion of it was a moment between these two adversaries – the alien that took over the world and the young girl determined to reunite with her mother. It was the moment when she invited the alien to call her by her nickname, “Tip.” I realized just how beautifully it could work on screen. The next powerful moment was the first session with Jim Parsons. If you were to read the character of Oh on the page, you would have to say he was a very unlikeable character. He’s arrogant and he’s taken over the world with his fellow Boov species; he’s dismissive of this young girl. Yet, when Jim read him he became vulnerable and incredibly funny. All of this charisma that wasn’t there on the page came out because of the way that Jim imbued him with his vulnerability.

Biggest challenge in making the movie: The book took place in the United States and that made the story small. Here it was supposed to be about a global invasion. The inspiration of how to make it bigger seems simple now, but our writers – Tom Astle and Matt Ember – came up with it. They decided let’s not just have them go to Arizona, which they do in the book, but around the world to Australia. All of a sudden it became about all of humanity and not just an American book. The hardest part of production was the opening scene. We must have done a dozen versions of it. I’m actually happy with the way the DVD and Blu-ray includes some alternate versions of scenes, including the opening of our movie, because a lot of super hero or science fiction movies suffer from a very expositional opening in which there’s a lot of backstory. For a while, every time we did a version of the opening it felt like too much backstory and not enough character and emotion. So, we finally had an opening where we’re just with Oh the whole time. And we see his enthusiasm and through his eyes. It was a lovely way to say, let’s do an alien invasion movie but let’s do it entirely from the alien’s point of view.

Pivotal scene: There was that moment in the book where they have successfully evaded being captured in Paris and they now know her mom is in Australia. They’re kind of repairing their little car and as she prepares to get back in, she’s full of enthusiasm and he very awkwardly stops her and offers an apology as he realizes he was sort of tricked by Captain Smek and the leadership of the Boov into doing something he’s not proud of.

On the state of the animation business: It’s one of the few genres that everyone can go see. And growing up, some of my favorite memories are sitting next to my dad watching What’s Opera, Doc? or sitting with my whole family watching the first Star Wars. These movies had serious themes and they occasionally had violence – sword fights or laser blasts – but you could take a 6-year-old to see them and then you’d chatter about the movie with your family over dinner after seeing a matinee. It became a real event for me, and it’s some of my fondest shared memories. I’m really proud that animation from our studio and our competitors’ studios continues to be one of the reliably safe forms of entertainment for the entire family to experience together. The good news and the bad news is that the state of the art is such that there are no limits on imagination. Be careful of what you wish for, because now the excuse is all gone. You can do hair and fabric and the most fabulous effects. And it used to be that we’d say, “We can’t do that,” so we’d limit our storytelling. It’s daunting and absolutely thrilling. There’s no limit.

Favorite animated movie or character of all time: I would say Dumbo is my favorite. It’s a powerful story about a silent character and I think animation does a lovely job with that. We loved working with Pig in our movie. His silence, his judgment of what’s going on in the car, it ends up making him kind of a profound character. And I think I developed my love of that with Dumbo, where elephants were the characters and it was all done with pantomime and silence.

Career beginnings: If I really reach back, it would be in the fifth grade, where we were all suffering under the cruel reign of (teacher’s name withheld to protect her identity). I discovered with stick figures I could create a flipbook and I could behead (my teacher) and then flip it back the other way and reconstitute (my teacher) for future punishment. That discovery of that power among my snickering friends made me addicted to the power of animation. Even though I studied physics and literature and had all these other adventures on my road to becoming an animator, I still never got over the thrill of seeing an animated character take their first steps on screen.

Best advice: It would be to ignore (name of mean fifth-grade teacher withheld) and that teacher’s ilk. Never stop doodling. You certainly need to be respectful to your teachers in class and I wouldn’t encourage bold rebellion, but never stop doodling. If you’re somebody who loves to move and dance, learn more about it and dance every day. If you’re a doodler, fill sketchbooks. If you’re a singer, holler in the shower. Just do it when it comes to creativity. Putting yourself out there puts you in an incredibly vulnerable place. You’ll never tremble more than when a drawing you’ve done is subject to another person’s judgment, but just do it all the time. Get your art out there and share it all the time.

Steve Martino

The Peanuts Movie

Steve Martino

Steve Martino

Key moment of inspiration: There were two things in particular. I grew up with this strip and I was 6 years old when the Christmas special hit the TV. These are wonderful characters, well developed and very reflective of us in a deep sense. I think Charles Schulz did that so well. There were two moments. One was when Craig Schulz came out to Blue Sky Studios very early in the production and he brought Tom Everhart with him. Craig invited everyone on the team to refer to his dad as “Sparky,” which was his nickname and what his friends called him. And I was having dinner with the two of them and Tom told a story that Sparky said to him he should embrace the canvas that he uses for his work. And it made me think we had an opportunity to see Snoopy with fur, soft and plush like the stuffed animals we all had. Making this movie was an opportunity to create an experience that will meet that audience today. The second was out at the Schulz museum. I would always go up to the second floor of that museum and go and look at Sparky’s drawing table. And I always marveled at the simplicity of his tools and how he connected with an audience around the globe from that table. He had this pen line in everything he did and so I thought the mantra for my team was to find that pen line in everything we do.

Toughest challenge in making the movie: In a phrase, it was to not screw it up. It was to stay true to that legacy and appeal to fans and also reach kids today who might not know the strip. We went through a tremendous amount of effort and detail to keep these characters true to their inspiration.

Pivotal scene: Not to totally give away the ending, but the pivotal scene comes at the very end. At its core, it was based on looking at Charlie Brown in his 50 years with the comic strip and looking at his qualities. He’s kind. He’s honest. And most of all he has that never-give-up attitude. After extreme failures, he’s that guy who picks himself back up and says today is the day I’m going to do it. Today’s the day I’m going to fly that kite. Today’s the day I’m going to win that baseball game.

Favorite animated movie or character of all time: I would have to say Snow White. My favorite character in that film was Dopey, and I think that carries over to my career as an animator and working with Snoopy in this film at times — that playful very childlike kind of attitude.

Career beginnings: My father was an art teacher, so the tools for creating were always there. We were exposed to a lot but never pushed. It was just around. I started to draw and when I got into high school and thought this was something I could do. I went into college as a graphic design major, and it was my sophomore year that I took an introduction to animation class at Ohio State. And our first project was a drawing on film assignment. I did the short film and when they projected my film, people laughed. I had this audience experience you don’t get in graphic design. From that moment on, I was hooked. I could no longer work in static graphics.

Best advice: Everybody says follow your passion, but I think it needs to be coupled with something I learned from Charles Schulz. You have to do the work. You’ve got to lay your foundation. He went to that drawing table every day for 50 years. There were days he was not inspired and didn’t have ideas, but he still did the work. The other thing I learned from him — and Dr. Seuss when I worked on Horton Hears a Who! — was be a little bit more like Charlie Brown. Things aren’t always going to work out like you plan them. And when they don’t work out quite like that, pick yourself up and try again.

On the state of the animation business: I see this as an exciting new time, sort of in the way impressionism shook up the art world in the 1800s. We’ve been going through a period where we sort of flexed our CGI muscles. We can make things look believable and real. And what I’m starting to see is variation in graphic style and movement. I actually think it’s vital for us as an industry to look for new and vital ways to tell stories. And that comes from the styling of the characters and the movement of the characters. When The LEGO Movie came out, I thought that was really fresh. There was a style to the movement of the film that didn’t fall into the same old thing. Now we’ve got a generation or two of people who’ve grown up on this style of filmmaking and it’s no big deal to them. So, we have to be very, very careful that we don’t fall in the trap of repeating ourselves.

Peter Sohn

The Good Dinosaur

Peter Sohn

Peter Sohn

Key moment of inspiration: There are a couple of things. I remember early on I did this drawing of the dinosaur with his head in the ground kind of plowing in the earth. It starts kind of painting a picture of that book The Good Earth, like a farmer plowing the earth. It was figuring out that family and how tough it would be for the family out there. Then it kind of connected me to my family. We weren’t farmers, but we had a grocery store and we all worked together in that store. So, there was something about hardworking parents struggling to make a life for a family. In that idea was born the kind of evolution idea and what would happen with the asteroid and what would happen with Arlo, this young dinosaur. That was kind of the first step in the process.

Pivotal scene: There’s a moment in the film where Arlo – who is a very fearful character – is tasked to do a job. But because of his fears, he’s unable to accomplish this thing and his father is the one who gave him this job and his father crosses a line with him. It really does push the story along, but his father – in a fit of love and anger – he pushes his son into something that’s a little too far for him. That moment is something that helped us a great deal in our act one.

Biggest challenge in making this movie: The story was really the toughest thing. The boy and dog story is a really archetypal thing. It’s a story that’s been told many times in terms of the structure of it. Trying to keep it as simple as can be but finding our own truths in it is a challenge. We got excited about how simple the story could be. I remember John Lasseter talking about what’s interesting about a story that’s simple. He would say that there was no place to hide. You can’t hide behind the plot. The characters have to be there because you can’t hide behind something that’s so simple. When the film got restarted – and it’s been two years on this version of the film – we had to make changes and iterations very fast. That was pretty tough, I have to say.

On the state of the animation business: Animation has been the concept of bringing something to life and that’s been everywhere. In this country, when I watch television I feel like things there have retained the 2D version of this, and when I see films, they’ve definitely gone with the CG version of things. This has been fantastic because there’s been a lot of content from different studios that’s varied, but there are a lot of great storytellers out there furthering the medium in different ways. The Apple TV channels for Vimeo and YouTube are also pushing the medium. China is also putting forth some amazing looking movies. Korea has also been contributing for a long time. It seems like it’s booming.

Favorite animated movie or character of all time: I had a strong healthy dose of Disney films and Miyazaki films growing up. I feel like Dumbo really impacted me. And now, as a parent, My Neighbor Totoro really means something to me. I didn’t grow up in that Japanese spiritual culture but something about it is really powerful. Getting to see that movie through my kids’ eyes reignited all of that again.

Career beginnings: It started off at Warners with Iron Giant — that was the first film I was on. And all the friends I made in school really triggered a lot inside me in terms of what my work in animation would be, because it really has to do with the people you get to know and get to work with more than anything. The people I met at school, I continue to work with them today. A friend of mine and I cold called Brad Bird because we were so excited about Family Dog and we were lucky enough to get a gig on Iron Giant and learned a lot about making movies. From there, I worked on several other projects until I got to Pixar. So, I think it all started at Warners.

Best advice: This may be cliché, but I would say really learn the form and love it as much as you can. Learn everything you can about it. Loving it means putting your heart into it. The work takes forever. It’s a long process. I’ve been on this film for five years and the love for the medium helps you push through it because you believe in the power of storytelling and the process of making characters come alive. I would say really understanding the work and loving the work is important. I can’t tell you how many times in my life, when things got hard or competitive, I decided I was going to do whatever I needed to do to make the work as good as I could. That’s helped me prioritize and never stop learning. Loving it is the secret for me.

Genndy Tartakovsky

Hotel Transylvania 2

Genndy Tartakovsky

Genndy Tartakovsky

Key moment of inspiration: It usually comes on very early where I get excited about one thing or when I see the first illustration for a character and then I want to get to the animation as fast as I possibly can. And then the next moment is when I see something move, and then you just want to see more and more.

Toughest challenge in making the movie: The challenge was in figuring out how the characters react to one another, what the story will be, and the pacing is always a big challenge.

Pivotal scene: I think the first scene where we see Dennis animated was a challenge because animating children so they’re believable is always difficult.

Favorite animated movie or character of all time: I think it’s Daffy Duck. His expressions are always funniest. I always used to think of Dracula as Daffy Duck because he’s neurotic and he wants things done his way. He’s 80 percent Daffy and 20 percent Bugs (Bunny).

Career beginnings: My love for animation started in 1977 when I came to America and my father bought a TV, and there were all these cartoons. And then were was a point where I animated a little two-minute film and when I watched it with an audience and they laughed at the drawings, that was it. I was hooked.

Best advice: It’s a lot of hard work and patience and you’ve got to love it. In America, especially, our lives are so much about our jobs that you better pick a job you love. Nowadays, you’ve got to make things and find your point of view.

On the state of the animation business: I think it’s still in its infancy. We need to advance storytelling and break away from the idea that it’s for kids only. It can be so much more. It’s hard to convince people to do that. I think that’s where it needs to go.

Paul Tibbitt

The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out Of Water

Paul Tibbitt

Paul Tibbitt

Key moment of inspiration: When we were working on the SpongeBob TV show, we were talking about Lord of the Flies and the idea was, wouldn’t it funny if the Krusty Krab ran out of napkins, and we sort of took that idea further. 

Toughest challenge in making the movie: The toughest part is that, when you’re making a TV show, you have quick deadlines, so you don’t get a lot of time to go back over your jokes. You’re also working in an 11-minute format. When you work on a longer period of time on a longer story, you start tearing things apart a little bit more because you have to do that. So, the biggest challenge is going from 11 minutes to something like 85 minutes.

Pivotal scene: The scene that the whole story hinged on was the transformation of regular Bikini Bottom into Apocalyptic Bikini Bottom. We toyed with that for a long time to make sure that it read and that it was as funny as it could be. That was another key thing for us: to keep it as funny and light as possible. 

Favorite animated movie or character of all time: I definitely was inspired as a kid by Betty Boop. I also thought Betty Boop had the best music. I’m definitely a fan of that surrealistic “anything can be alive” idea.

Career beginnings: When I was little and I figured out that Mel Blanc did the voices of almost every single Warner Bros. cartoon character, I thought that was what I wanted to do. My mom bought me a tape recorder and I used to record myself trying to do voices. And then I started drawing little flip cartoons in the corners of my books. I got in trouble in school for that. But then my mom let me draw in the corners of her books. The Guinness Book of Records was always a good one, because it was so thick and you could do a lot with it. Later, I found out about CalArts and applied and went there.

Best advice: I tell kids who ask me about working in animation they should always be drawing. Any time your hand isn’t feeding you, it should be drawing. You need to be moving a pencil on paper. You should be drawing from real life. One of the most helpful things is to draw animals and people that you see.

On the state of the animation business: I feel like I’ve been saying this for my entire career, but I feel like it’s constantly in flux and constantly changing and evolving. And now with a million ways to receive and create content, there seems to be a lot more freedom in that people can get their work out. Carl Harvey, who used to work for SpongeBob, has a show out called Harvey Beaks and some of the people he hired he found on Tumblr. There are all kinds of ways of creating cartoons now that don’t require as many people.

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