Some animators accidentally stumble into the animation industry, others are highly-trained to do it—Gabriel Polonsky however was drawn to it. Gabriel was born to two artists, giving him a more-artistic pedigree than most animators in the industry. At just 5 years old his father introduced him to cinematic art forms, "my father taught Fine Arts at Boston University and one day he brought home a Regular 8 camera and taught my me and my brother how to do clay animation that was the start of 15 years of film-making."
It is no surprise then that Gabriel's rich portfolio still includes clay animation to this day, as well as traditional animation and live-action production. After a successful career as a freelance animator and illustrator, then a 5-year stint at a Boston production studio, in 1992 he started Gabriel Polonsky Studio and has successfully led his team ever since.
Gabriel has spent the last 20 years building-up his studio, making it one of Boston's leading animation studios producing 2D (cel), stop-motion, mixed media, clay animation and live action, in combination with computer animation and digital effects (for the studio's full portfolio of work click here). And, for the last 18 years he has been teaching the art of animation.
We got a chance to, virtually, sit down with Gabriel to pick his brain about the strategies he used to be a 20-year industry success story. The turn-out was fantastic, with some of the most strategic, poignant advice we have received to date in our Interview Series:
For any of our readers not familiar with you could you explain your studio's vision and what separates you from the (vast) competition?
My studio is an outgrowth of my own personal artistic vision: I like the challenge of constantly evolving artistically and working in many different ways. To me there are no dividing lines between styles, mediums, and genres; fine art and commercial art--it is all art! What excites me about animation is that it incorporates so many art forms. For example we might create a stop-motion kinetic metal sculpture animation for Sci-fi Channel (SyFy) one day, a Warner Brothers style series open for PBS the next day, a retro style character for a Miramax film the next day, and so on. We do many forms of animation including 2D on paper with digital or traditional ink and paint, Flash, After Effects, stop motion, pixillation, live action, and mixed media of all kinds. So I guess what makes us unique is our lack of a directed vision; diversity is our vision!
As a creative professional how have you handled the business-side to running an
I actually enjoy the business-part part (strange for an artist to say that, I know). I do not have a formula, it is an on-going process, and I learn from my mistakes. Repeat business is always important, which means striving to deliver a little more than clients ask for and treating your crew well. When executing a client contract it is crucial to clearly outline exactly what you are doing and how you are doing it. Working for other companies, I've seen projects go awry because those things were not clarified upfront. Clients feel at ease knowing exactly what they are getting, the crew is most-productive knowing exactly what is expected of them, and it is important to set reasonable boundaries about how many client revisions are expected. Delivering good work and service to clients is vital because they will act as 'sales people' for your company by spreading the word about you.
How did you initially get your foot into the door of the animation industry?
After years as an independent animator, filmmaker, and artist, I walked into Olive Jar Animation in Boston with my portfolio and demo reel one day and worked for them for the next 5 years. It was a unique place with very talented people, and they did some amazing work. I learned a lot there,mostly working on clay animated TV commercials.
What kind of education did it take to get you where you are today?
I am self-taught and from the school of hard knocks. My parents are both well-known fine artists and educators so I grew up around art of all kinds. I began animating, sculpting, drawing, painting, and film-making when I was about 3 and never stopped. As a professional, I have had the great fortune to work with some of the best people in the industry, collaboration is one of the best ways to learn. Otherwise, (as I tell my students) keep your eyes and mind wide open, the answer to every creative question is out there. Formal education is wonderful (I have been teaching college animation and art courses for 18 years) but NEVER discredit or underestimate your own ability to teach yourself and trust and develop your natural talent.
Who does the hiring for your company?
I do .
Has the trend of overseas animation outsourcing affected your firm, if yes, how have you dealt with it or compensated for it?
It is a double-edged sword. It has enabled US studios to produce great series work for lower budgets, but also has driven the budgets down and competition up. I am more focused on short-form projects such as TV commercials, series opens, and network ID's which are not effected.
If you were going to hire a new employee/intern what qualities would you look for in a person and portfolio and where would you look?
I look for great artistic talent, amazing animation skills (with a focus on character acting, emotion, and timing), easy-going personality, and diverse abilities. Almost all of the freelancers I hire have worked with me for many years or decades - I think it is important to stick with good people. I rarely post on Craigslist or freelancer sites, you get too many responses to sift through. I prefer getting referrals from people I know in the industry. I also occasionally hire former students.
Do you hire freelancers? If yes, what would make you throw work their way?
Hmm, freelancers who may know lots of software but obviously do not have natural talent. Someone who does not give a phone number with their inquiry, if I'm going to hire someone, we need to talk live first to get a feel if it is a fit.
What animation software packages does your firm prefer to use? Which one would you recommend to beginners?
I really have no preference, it depends on the project needs. Flash is great for learning simplev2D animation if you use it 'traditionally' (I mean drawing keys and tweens). For really hardcore, squashy-stretchy, Warner Bros. style, 2D character animation, I still prefer doing the animation on paper with digital ink and paint (in Animo or Toonboom). Also After Effects with puppet tools is good too, and Photoshop. Even Digicel Pencil test (and others) can be useful for certain projects. I also like using traditional hand-crafted techniques as much as possible
What advice would you give to aspiring animators looking to break into the industry?
Love what you are doing because it ain’t easy. Once you get out of school, you will get a second education by working in the industry and your career may take twists and turns you never expected (for the good and bad). Get your foot in the door, grab an internship, make contacts, do good work, don't piss people off, go where the work is, build a reel and a reputation.