Some people believe that a traditional entertainment education isn't necessary to score an impressive job in the animation industry. But it sure helps. Just ask Jon Gallo, VP and Director of Motion Design at DraftFCB.
After graduating from the University of Iowa with a degree in Fine Arts Jon went on to Columbia College to major in film. And ever since he has had a steady stream of jobs that includes Broadview Media, Post Effects and Lake Production studios. His extensive experience he garnered at his previous production studios led up to him running the Motion Design department at an enterprise-class firm, DraftFCB. But, just in case you haven't heard of them, they are a major player in the animation game and work with 100+ of the Fortune 500 companies.
Recently Jon (virtually) sat down with us to offer advice to aspiring animators everywhere looking to break into the field:
What is your firm's focus within animation and what led your firm to have such a focus?
While we cover a broad spectrum of disciplines, from motion graphics to visual effects and compositing, it's ultimately our love and respect for design that governs the way we approach and complete each project. It's always good to keep up with the latest tools and trends to stay relevant in this industry but that alone won't get us the dream jobs. We must constantly push ourselves to experiment and play outside what's comfortable. That's where the big ideas live.
Fill in the blank: The future of animation is _________.
to me, driven by a lot of the folks out there in tutorial land--like Nick
Campbell and Andrew Kramer, as well as a host of other independent
animators and filmmakers whose work can be found on the web. Through sharing their creative process they are inspiring innovative thinking and facilitating the exchange of ideas within this rapidly developing online community.
What are the best and worst aspects about working in the animation field?
The best aspect is seeing something come to life through motion. Every individual frame within a complete piece of animation can and should ideally exist as a work of art. When a series of these works are sequenced together the resulting visual story, be it narrative or abstract, has the potential to affect an audience more powerfully than it's individual components. In the art of animation, the whole is more
than the sum of it's parts. The worst aspect... waiting for renders.
Among your firm's achievements, which one(s) are you the most proud of?
I'm proud every time we deliver results to our clients that exceed their expectations and/or elevate the original vision beyond the boards. I'm especially proud of the high level of productive creative collaboration we have fostered with our colleagues in offices across the country – some of whom we have yet to meet in person, actually. Proof that a great product is evidence of a great process.
What skills/qualities does your firm seek out when hiring new employees?
Aside from the obvious prerequisite skill sets, one of the most important qualities we seek is a collaborative spirit. The creative process can greatly benefit from shared perspectives. Also, a curious nature leads to new learning which, in turn, can enlighten the team.
What particular schools, if any, does your firm recruit new hires from? If none, where do you recruit new hires?
We often look to Columbia College and The Art Institute - a lot of hungry young talent there. We also do regional, national, or even global recruiting through our Creative Recruiting department.
What advice would you give to aspiring animators?
Play. Every day if you can. Find creative problems to solve in ways you've never tried. Or even in ways you thought would never work. It's inevitable that you'll be disappointed with the results from time to time but don't be discouraged. If you know where you want to be it doesn't matter if you ever get there as long as you pick a direction and go. This is the best way to find your unique perspective.
What were your most challenging projects, and why?
The most challenging projects, in retrospect,were the most rewarding.
There have been so many but one that comes to mind is the time we had to figure out how to generate a photo-real particle dust cloud shaking off a falling 3D title made of nacho chips on impact - complete with a spattering of powder on the surface. Round after round with particle generators got close but it still had that "plug-in" look. An editor on our team overheard our struggle and offered up this gem: "Powdered sugar. Just shoot some powdered sugar dropping onto a black card." We could do that... (sound of multiple palm-slaps to the forehead) Sometimes you get so obsessed with making one technique work that you forget to take a step back to consider other options. Anyway, we had a great time shooting the footage. Everything and everyone on the stage was covered in a thin layer of white powder by the time we wrapped. The end result looked terrific. Thank you, Robert. Lesson learned (again).
What kind of education did it take to get you where you are today?
I studied fine arts at the University of Iowa and completed my degree at Columbia College, Chicago, majoring in film.
What animation software packages does your firm prefer to use? Which one would you recommend to beginners?
We rely heavily on the Adobe Creative Suite with After Effects as our main app for compositing, effects and animation. We do all of our 3D work in Cinema 4D and 3D tracking in Syntheyes. We also frequently use Foundry's 3D Camera Tracker, Sapphire and Trapcode plug-ins within After Effects.
Do you think that there is an increasing or decreasing demand for animators overall? Why?
I might be a little biased, but I think animation has been and always
will be at the leading edge of artistic and scientific innovation. I
imagine this trend won't be slowing down anytime soon.
Check out more interviews at The Animation Career Review Interview Series.