Very few animation studios have the high-profile pedigree proudly sported by Slap Happy Cartoons. Slap Happy (a name fun enough to say twice) was the brainchild of four industry veterans: Greg Sullivan, Josh Mepham, Vito Viscomi and Kathy Rocchio. After years of cutting their proverbial animation teeth as principals these industry professionals decided to get together and start one bad-ass production house--Enter Slap Happy.
The four professional goofballs at Slap Happy have built their studios in Vancouver and L.A. with solid reputations for creating funny, original, quirky and sometimes-bordering-on-twisted cartoons. Their client list includes high-profile programmers like Comedy central, KidsWB! and Disney XD.
Kathy Rocchio, Partner, Animation Producer and Production Consultant at Slap Happy has over 126 animation series episodes under her belt and a plethora of other experiences like budgeting for productions, creating and managing creative teams, and liaising with clients/broadcasters/distributors. We were extremely lucky to get an interview with Kathy and Slap Happy, and she offered some pearls of wisdom from her 15+ years of experience for our readers:
What is your firm's focus within animation and what led your firm to have such a focus?
Slap Happy’s focus has always been pretty simple in theory: To develop great characters and produce our own shows with people we like. We have all directed, written and produced hundreds of hours of programming on other people’s ideas. Working on service can be a lot of fun on the right project and we have all been fortunate to work on some great ones, but after a time you really want to conceive of an idea with like minded people and be able to see it come to life.
Fill in the blank: The future of animation is _________.
I considered the options here and decided I should leave it ‘blank’ as I can only make a wild prediction. It is a tougher market these days. Broadcasters seem to be favouring live action properties. Trend fluctuations don’t really concern us. There will always be a market for animation since traditional broadcast isn’t our only option anymore.
What are the best and worst aspects about working in the animation field?
Best – Working with like minded people who share your sense of humour and love of creation / process of production.
Worst – The feast and famine. When the city is busy with production work it is difficult to pull an entire crew together. Everyone’s production schedules seem to coincidentally conflict with one another. Good / fast artists are often lured to work 2 full time freelance jobs.
Among your firm's achievements, which one(s) are you the most proud of?
We just signed a development deal for a show I can’t mention.... with a broadcaster I can’t mention, but we are very excited about it!
We are also very proud of the re-brand of the Vancouver Canucks mascot FIN who we successfully turned into an animated personality in series of shorts produced in 2010. Currently we are producing more shorts for the Canucks to air both online and on the jumbo screens during the games. This project continues to be a ton of fun for our resident hockey nerds.
What skills/qualities does your firm seek out when hiring new employees?
Above all talent, creativity and professionalism.... I also recommend a thick skin, a sense of humour and a desire to work your butt off.
What particular schools, if any, does your firm recruit new hires from? If none, where do you recruit new hires?
Cap College, VFS and of course Sheridan are favourites, however we have hired people without any previous animation experience. Since a big part of our business is development, we are continually looking for new design styles that will work for our 2D projects. We often troll graphic artist sites for people with unique styles to help create an initial pass of design that will help us sell a show idea.
What advice would you give to aspiring animators?
Aside from the obvious (learn and hone your skills) is to try and get to know as many supervisors, directors and producers as possible. Friends hire friends with talent and the community is pretty tight knit. Particularly in Vancouver. Networking is key. Find out where they hang out and buy them beer.
What were your most challenging projects, and why?
We have had a show in active development for over 5 years, with three different broadcasters. It is a fantastic show with great positive feedback, but has yet to receive a production order. I guess I would actually describe that as frustrating rather than challenging.... All animation production is challenging! In the mid nineties I worked on a CD-ROM game. I have put game production on my list of things to never ever do again.
What kind of education did it take to get you where you are today?
I took Fine Arts in school which did not help me to become an animation producer, aside from solidify my desire to work in a creative environment. A love of animation and a desire to work in a creative field led me to seek production work in the early 90’s with one of Vancouver’s up and coming studios. I worked my way up through production banking 13 years with that company when I left in 2007. One of my partners – Josh Mepham did the Classical Animation program at VFS, Greg Sullivan finished the Classical Animation program at Sheridan, and Vito Viscomi attended the Broadcast Arts program at Ryerson.
What animation software packages does your firm prefer to use? Which one would you recommend to beginners?
Classical is a great place to start. I think every aspiring animator should learn how to animate classically. On paper! But, classical is not feasible for our budgets (in most cases) and we prefer to use Flash. Our shows tend to be graphic / cartoony so this software works well for us, and is simple to learn and use if you know the basic fundamentals. TV Paint has been of recent interest to us. They have teamed with a virtual pipeline company, Thinware Media’s StudioCAP, to manage assets through production. It may make this software an economically feasible tool for series production in the near future.
Could you share with us your best story about working in the animation industry.
I could but I don’t think I should. My best stories involve people being morbidly humiliated.
Has the trend of outsourcing animation overseas affected your firm, if yes, how have you dealt with it or compensated for it?
No! I love outsourcing. We are not in the business of animation services / outsourcing for other studios, so we are unaffected. It is a trend that has been going on in traditional and then digital 2D for a long time. I have outsourced projects to several overseas countries. We lose some animation locally but staffing in town can become near impossible when there is a production feast, so sending in-betweening overseas is often our best option. Thankfully there are some great studios out there to fill the gaps. It is still essential to have at least a small animation crew internally, to cherry pick scenes and make last minute fixes in post. Of course given the option, having the entire crew in town is ideal.
Do you think that there is an increasing or decreasing demand for animators overall? Why?
I could only guess that the demand is growing. We produce 2D shows which seem to be turning into a bit of a niche market, but with so many different forms of media turning to animation I think the demand will continue to grow.
Check out more interviews at Animation Career Review's Interview Series.