Jerry Chambless, VP and Creative Director for Illum Productions, began his career with a short stint in design before pursuing his love of cinema and animation. Jerry believes in mixing real-world experience with education which is why he gained real art world experience before going back to school. After going back to school in 1995, Jerry graduated from the Ringling School of Art and Design with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Computer Animation—and since then hasn't looked back.
After working as a CGI Animator for 3 years at Calabash Animation studio, Jerry was recruited to the Genuity Group—where his talents were recognized and he was made Creative Director. He is now VP and Creative Director at Illum, a company that claims their talent has made all the difference. “It's the people who make the difference in what we do. A chance encounter - stimulating a fresh idea. It's our people's imagination, ideas and caring attitudes that inspire us to look at the world differently and with an ever-inspiring palette,” says Illum.
Jerry recently spared some time from his busy schedule to share advice on the animation industry, and his path to animation success.
What is your firm's focus within animation and what led your firm to have such a focus on this one?
I would say that Illum’s focus is providing our clients a realization of their ideas and concepts. It can be within the confines of an independent film, a commercial, corporate training media, music videos, print, etc. Due to our ability to mold with a project, our clients can pretty much expect anything from Illum. We have worked on 2d flash animation for sports training & 3d character animation for network mascots, live action shoots for family friendly films with visual effects to mixed platforms for Broadway musicals. I believe that is what makes a small boutique like ours fun & exciting. We are not mainstream so we can experiment with various techniques & explore interesting ways to come at a project.
Fill in the blank: The future of animation is _________.
Anything you can dream up.
What are the best and worst aspects about working in the animation field?
The best aspects are concepts becoming reality with creative ingenuity. The worst is the unpredictability of clients or projects.
Among your firm's achievements, which one(s) are you the most proud of?
Our diverse body of projects, our passion for mixing mediums, our wonderful collaborative partnerships, & our ability to harness amazing artists that have the same enthusiasm we do for our craft.
What skills/qualities does your firm seek out when hiring new employees?
We are a small studio so we utilize contractors more than staff. It allows us to keep overhead low & the artists seem to like the flexibility it allows. When recruiting for our contract pool, we look for natural talent, an open mind, the drive to learn more, a good understanding of the principles of animation, great communication & acting skills & lack of ego. Everything else can be taught. If an artist works out, they go on a team list & are called upon before we search for additional help.
What particular schools, if any, does your firm recruit new hires from? If none, where do you recruit new hires?
There are several great schools that are turning out talent, both formal & virtual. We have contractors from Ringling College, Cal Arts, Savannah, Sheridan, Columbia.
What advice would you give to aspiring animators?
This can sometimes be a thankless job so be passionate about what you do. Study from life & draw every day. Explore new ideas. This business is not just about art so study other aspects of business & social relations. Take economics, marketing, speech and acting classes. Be prepared & be detailed. The smallest attention to detail is noticed. Additionally it helps to have a backup plan.
What were your most challenging projects, and why?
Every project has its unique set of challenges. I would have to say that it’s not as much about the projects as it is about the client. Clients can be more challenging if they can’t articulate their desire, if they don’t understand why budgets are what they are or why animation schedules are what they are. However those clients that do understand the whole picture, those are the ones that you crave to collaborate with.
What kind of education did it take to get you where you are today?
Well before I say this, I want to state that formal education has its place, but there are many avenues for training in this or any industry. I have a BA in Advertising & Marketing from Northwood University & a BFA from Ringling College. During my first degree, I actually worked in advertising firms gathering as much real world experience as I could so I wouldn’t be pigeon-holed as education without experience. After working several years as a designer & art director, my wife saw that I was burning out & took my portfolio to Ringling after a conversation we had about my love for cinema & animation. She got me admitted before I knew. A road trip later & I found that I was going back to college. However to this day I am constantly learning & training on my craft.
What animation software packages does your firm prefer to use? Which one would you recommend to beginners?
For 3d we use Maya. For effects, compositing, design, etc., we use the Adobe Master Suite. For our 2d, we use Digicel Flipbook, Flash & Photoshop.
Could you share with us your best story about working in the animation industry.
My partner & I took on a job that was for Broadway. We were directly hired by the company that was brought in to create the stage, backdrop & set designs. Never working in this demographic before, I had no idea who the principal was. After doing the business of haggling back & forth on budget, styles & concepts for a few weeks, I brought in my partner who oversees the 2d animation. He didn’t know who we were working with either. He was telling his cousin about our project when his cousin’s jaw hit the floor & said “are you serious? You are working with the most sought after stage designer in Broadway!!!” We had a great time working with the company & they loved what we did for them & the show. We ended up flying to New York, meeting the principal & his assistant, having drinks & seeing the show. Great experience.
Do you think that there is an increasing or decreasing demand for animators overall? Why?
I feel that there are more artists than there are jobs. The numbers of schools that are popping up catering to an “animation” career are mind boggling considering how small our community actually is. However every business demographic needs competent, creative, out of the box thinkers. That will never change.