Paul Griswold is the hands-on Creative Director at Fusion Digital Productions, and like many in his position—he loves the business despite the 12-14 hour days. Griswold has been laboring in the animation industry for years, taking a pragmatic approach to the business—find work (preferably, often), do it well and learn every aspect of your trade.
Fusion Digital has created tonnes of animation productions across the genre for a variety of clients, and were recently involved in a commercial, with John Kricfalusi, for the Cartoon Network's Adult Swim. Paul has described Fusion's latest project as “John K vintage” with “a 3D twist”.
One of Paul, and the company's, proudest projects to date was Starbuck's Product (RED) campaign--a campaign that leveraged Fusion's digital skills in order to to help in their crusade against the spread of HIV in Africa.
Paul sat down with Animation Career Review to give some pragmatic advice to our aspiring animator readers:
What is your firm's focus within animation and what led your firm to have such a focus?
Our focus is the job that we're offered. I remember watching Michael Caine's "On Acting" class back in the 1980's and one thing that really stuck with me was his answer to the question, "how do you become a working actor?". His advice was to never turn down a paying job. That's basically our philosophy, which means we jump from doing visual effects on a feature film to high-res 3D renderings for print advertising and then right over to creating motion graphics for a commercial. As long as the job makes financial sense, why turn it down?
Fill in the blank: The future of animation is _________.
free from the cumbersome overly-complex interfaces we deal with today.
What are the best and worst aspects about working in the animation field?
The best has to be collaborating with some of the most creative people on earth.
The worst aspect would be the working hours we sometime have to endure to finish a project. 12-14 hour workdays are common.
Among your firm's achievements, which one(s) are you the most proud of?
We had the opportunity to work on a spot for Starbucks and the Product (RED) campaign. (RED)'s campaign to help combat the spread of HIV in Africa, specifically their work to help women and children, is exactly the type of project we truly love being involved with.
What skills/qualities does your firm seek out when hiring new employees?
Be fun. Be creative. Be a partner, not a solo-act.
What particular schools, if any, does your firm recruit new hires from? If none, where do you recruit new hires?
Almost exclusively by peer recommendation and word-of-mouth.
What advice would you give to aspiring animators?
Don't focus on the software. Learn photography, filmmaking, editing, acting, sculpting, theatrical lighting, and take some fine-art classes. I see so many horrible demo reels where it's clear the student doesn't know anything but how to push the right buttons in XYZ 3D software. Button pushers are cheap and easy to find.
What were your most challenging projects, and why?
We just finished a commercial with John Kricfalusi for Cartoon Network's Adult Swim. The challenge was working with a very traditional, pen and paper cartoon director. John is, in my opinion, the greatest cartoon director in my lifetime. However, there's a huge difference between cartoon animating and 3D animating. Even the terms we use, in many cases, have the same name but a different meaning. So, while it was an incredible project to work on, I think it was very challenging because we had to translate John's vision into 3D. The finished product looks like vintage John K animation, but with a 3D twist.
What kind of education did it take to get you where you are today?
All of my 3D knowledge is self-taught. My background is in film production, music engineering and theater.
What animation software packages does your firm prefer to use? Which one would you recommend to beginners?
We use Softimage, Eyeon Fusion, 3D Coat, and After Effects mainly. For beginners, it depends on your age. For younger people, I would recommend something like Daz Studio since it gives you immediate feedback and you won't be discouraged quickly. For high-school and above, I would say to investigate the educational discounts offered on any of the major animation packages out there. Another free tool is the Softimage Mod Tool, which is mainly for creating game assets, but has nearly all the tools built-in to the full version of Softimage.
Could you share with us your best story about working in the animation industry.
I couldn't possibly pick just one.
Do you think that there is an increasing or decreasing demand for animators overall? Why?
I think there's going to be an increase in demand for animators because of the increase in online entertainment, such as Revision 3's shows, Leo Laporte's TWiT Network, and so on. However, I also think there's going to be a decrease in the payscale for animators as these types of productions have much lower budgets and animation is slowly becoming more of a commodity.