John Schnall and his animation firm Quality Schnality are “makers of rather strange animation”. Quality Schnallity leverages John's 30 years of experience to create humorous and quirky animation for the web, music videos, commercials, and more.
Throughout the years this boutique agency has met with success and currently boasts a client list that includes the likes of PBS and The Disney Channel. Personally, John has won over 60 awards at film festivals for his work on independent films.
Before branching off on his own John honed his skills as the Animation Director at Word World LLC and Cartoon Pizza. Before that he was the Timing Supervisor for Jumbo Pictures.
When asked John jumped at the chance to impart some of his 30 years of animation wisdom to our aspiring animators:
What is your firm's focus within animation and what led your firm to have such a focus?
Quality Schnallity's focus is on a wide variety of short projects. Currently there is a big demand for website introduction videos, so most jobs that come in are web intros, but we've also been busy with everything from interactive games to educational spots.
Fill in the blank: The future of animation is _________.
The future of animation is in flux. The business is changing; there's more demand for animation than ever before but at the same time budgets are a fraction of what they once were; one has to learn how to adapt to the new animation economy.
What are the best and worst aspects about working in the animation field?
My favorite animation quote comes from Mike deSeve: Imagine doing what you always wanted to do. Over, and over, and over...
Among your firm's achievements, which one(s) are you the most proud of?
Having Rex Reed call one of my films, "I Was A Thanksgiving Turkey", "terri-" on a review show. It was clear in context that he was about to say "terrific" (as opposed to "terrible", "terrifying" or "terriaki mushroom sauce"), but he was interrupted by his co-host before he could get the full sentence out. No matter; it was still a career highlight.
What skills/qualities does your firm seek out when hiring new employees?
Skills vary depending on the job at hand; the main quality I look for is a serious nature and approach. I'd rather work with someone who is interested and eager to learn a new skill than someone who comes in with a lot of skills and a lot of attitude.
What particular schools, if any, does your firm recruit new hires from? If none, where do you recruit new hires?
I generally find people from recommendations of others rather than straight from school, which is one reason internships are so important. If I call someone at a studio looking for someone to hire they are more likely than not going to recommend someone who interned at the studio.
What advice would you give to aspiring animators?
Make a film. Try animating in a style you've never animated before. Expand your comfort level. And make your own film; show me something no one else is doing. I'd rather see a less-than-successful piece that tries something new than a well done animation that's been done over and over again.
What were your most challenging projects, and why?
Every project has it's own challenges. My most recent independent film had the challenge of making a 7 minute monologue compelling, when the main character is basically stuck to one spot and allowed to move less and less during the course of the piece, and is getting more mad, bitter and hard to listen to as it goes on. I'm very happy with how it came out, though it's my least popular film. (You can find it on my website if you dig enough).
What kind of education did it take to get you where you are today?
I took a course in animation back in high school, which got me interested. I then had two years of liberal arts education and tried to do animation on my own, which was good in terms of broad background education but didn't get me far in animation. I then transfer to NYU and studied animation. But my best education came from working in the field, primarily with George Griffin and Metropolis Graphics, and also with night classes taught at the Ink Tank by legendary animator Tissa David. Later, I worked for many years at Jumbo Pictures/Cartoon Pizza, and learned a whole new set of skills on the managerial side.
What animation software packages does your firm prefer to use? Which one would you recommend to beginners?
On the computer I primarily use Flash and After Effects, But I'm old fashioned; I draw on paper first, then scan my drawings and work in either AE or Flash. In that way I get the advantages of working digitally while still preserving a hand-drawn style.
Could you share with us your best story about working in the animation industry.
On my first day of working at an animation studio, during lunch, conversation turned to the ASIFA-East animation festival the night before. Everyone started by talking about the films and commercials they really liked, the really well-animated ones. But then, inevitably, the conversation turned to the spots that weren't well animated. For some reason no one was mentioning one spot I really didn't like, so I brought it up. Turns out it was done at the studio I was at. By the studio owner's girlfriend. Who was sitting across the table from me. That was the last day I worked at this particular studio.
Do you think that there is an increasing or decreasing demand for animators overall? Why?
I think there's an increasing demand, at a decreasing budget. So my advice to anyone starting out is to learn as much as they can about the full process, from script writing to sound; everyone's wearing more hats these days so the more skills you can pick up the more useful you can be to an animation studio.