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It is becoming strikingly obvious throughout our Interview Series that graduates coming out of Sheridan College are trained to succeed. Rich Murray of RichToons is yet another proven-successful graduate of Sheridan; he is a 20-year animation industry veteran and successful entrepreneur.
Rich opened RichToons only after a 7-year stint making a name for himself in the industry as an Interactive & Graphic Designer at Turning Point Design, Interactive Art Director at Mariposa Communications and finally Art Director at Oberon Interactive. 13 years later his animation studio is going strong, thanks largely to the toolset learned a Sheridan College and at the Hard Knocks School of Life. Rich has had the opportunity to use (and hone) his diverse toolset to create online animations, videos, live video-based events, interactive games, character design, animated series, design, interactive messaging, comics, apps, brand identity and website design.
We recently caught up with Rich and were able to pick his quirky, yet creative, brain about what it takes to succeed in one of the most cut-throat industries in the world—including some of the most tangible, actionable advice yet for our readers:
What is your firm's focus within animation and what led your firm to have such a focus?
The RichToons tag line is "Marketing With Character" and that is actually the focus of our company--to successfully apply characters and animation to various marketing endeavours, whatever the medium, resulting in marketing messages that entertain, motivate and inform. What led us to such a focus? Well, to quote the movie Robots - "See a need, fill a need." I came across several opportunities where companies needed to reach their audience, whether internally or externally, but in a way that made their messages different and memorable.
Fill in the blank: The future of animation is _________.
The future of animation is interactive. The audience, no matter what the age group, is increasingly savvy in their knowledge of navigating and interacting with content. It's one thing to watch great animation, but the audience wants to experience this content in their own way. RichToons does animation of course, but we also create user experiences with games, apps, simulations, etc.--that add an extra dimension and make these experiences more personal.
What are the best and worst aspects about working in the animation field?
The best aspects of working in animation is hearing praise for a job well-done, and for reaching the audience in the way that we intended. The worst aspects of working in animation is of course the long hours.
Among your firm's achievements, which one(s) are you the most proud of?
There are several projects that RichToons is very proud of. Among them is MyTeenLounge.com. This was a site created for Upper Canada Mall to help promote teen-related events happening around the mall--new stores, contests, etc. We developed an online webisode series about a group of teens and their experiences in the mall. We also developed the site around the personalities of the various teen characters and even developed their profiles on various social media sites such as Facebook and Blogger. The site and series garnered 4 marketing awards. Another project we're very proud of is a campaign of spots written and animated by RichToons to promote a site where teens can socialize and share their acne horror stories
What skills/qualities does your firm seek out when hiring new employees?
I don't hire for permanent positions at RichToons, but I will contract freelance animators. Obviously I look for someone who is creative and good at animation, (usually in Flash). But I also look for individuals who can think for themselves and make independent creative decisions. Once I give them my creative direction, I don't want to have to keep holding their hand through to the end. I like to trust that they will deliver great animations on time that are true to the project's vision.
What particular schools, if any, does your firm recruit new hires from? If none, where do you recruit new hires?
I don't recruit new hires from schools specifically but I do have a great affinity for Sheridan College in Oakville Ontario Canada. That's where I went, and several of the freelances I have hired. I usually hire from my own local community of creatives, but I have been making more and more meaningful connections through LinkedIn and other sites where professional artists socialize.
What advice would you give to aspiring animators?
Aspiring animators should of course love to draw and be able to translate their everyday observations into animatable actions. They should also look at as much animated content as possible - TV, YouTube, Vimeo, Movies. Also look at artists' portfolios on sites like Behance or Deviant Art. It can be very inspiring to see animation and character designs in many different styles when developing your own style.
What were your most challenging projects, and why?
I find that the challenge of many projects is multiplied by the number of people who are in between me and the end client or audience. When I deal with a small group of people or even just one individual as my client, I find my job is relatively easy. The end result is usually something that is unique and quite entertaining. But sometimes there are a lot of cooks in the kitchen--a lot of layers of people or large approval committees--each of whom wants to add their own vision to the animation soup. The end result in that case is usually something that, while it strives to please everyone, ends up entertaining no one.
What kind of education did it take to get you where you are today?
I received a degree in Radio and TV Arts from Ryerson University in Toronto. I then went to Sheridan College for a one-year course in computer graphic and animation (some twenty years ago on early Macs just after the birth of Adobe). Since then, it's been the school of learning-on-the-job. As I go, I continue to learn about new tools and new methods for delivery of animated content.
What animation software packages does your firm prefer to use? Which one would you recommend to beginners?
RichToons primarily uses Adobe Flash. With Flash, we can develop animated content AND highly interactive content. We of course will also use various other animation and effects tools as needed.
Could you share with us your best story about working in the animation industry.
Honestly my best story in the animation industry is always my latest one. I'm always jazzed when a project is complete and out there doing its job of entertaining and informing an audience. I feel proud looking back on our body of work and pride in your work is always a great story.
Has the trend of outsourcing animation overseas affected your firm, if yes, how have you dealt with it or compensated for it?
The trend of outsourcing animation overseas has not yet had a large effect on RichToons. I am starting to get those calls from sources offering to do 2D and 3D animation on the cheap. What I think is irreplaceable is the power of a creative idea. RichToons is hired for creative ideas that are then executed in the form of illustration, animation and interaction. Robotic, conveyor-belt-style frame crunching cannot replace ideas and solid artistic vision.
Do you think that there is an increasing or decreasing demand for animators overall? Why?
I think there is an increasing demand for animators, but it's a matter of finding, or even seeking, new opportunities. The downturn in the world economy definitely affected the amount of content being developed for traditional media such as TV and movies. What I did with RichToons was to seek out the opportunities to where animation was not necessarily being applied, and that was the starting point for building my business. Who knew you could use animation to develop a web series for a mall? Or motivate a sales force to increase its sales? Or create a moving logo for a small production company? Or create a fun, interactive training application? Or create an animated story app for kids? I did. And then it was a matter of finding a solid client base that agreed.
Check out more interviews at Animation Career Review's Interview Series.