The typical successful animation career path is animation school graduation, then climbing the ropes to become an animation company executive. Joseph Wraith however, decided to skip those steps. Joseph, a self-trained animator/illustrator/graphic designer skipped the first step, education―eager to get on with his career.
Since then Joseph has spent 25 years in digital production, branding, design, and advertising. His resume includes the likes of Disney, Clear Channel Communication and several other Fortune 500 companies.
After some time honing his skills, Joseph gave up the semi-glamorous lifestyle of working for Fortune 500 companies in order to start his own boutique production firm in Scottsdale, Arizona―Thunderwerks. And in 17 years he hasn't looked back. In addition to running Thunderwerks he also runs a special effects and animation company called Wraith Light. In his (limited) free time he works on his personal illustration collection and his collection of hot rod monster illustrations and collateral The Fuglies.
Joseph recently let us pick his brain, and its two and a half decades of experience, for advice to give our aspiring animator readers:
What is your firm's focus within animation and what led your firm to have such a focus?
Being an animator of both 3d and 2d animation I have a diverse focus that really is adjusted according to whatever my current client needs are. Mostly due to my ability to change from to 2d and 3d on the fly and not wanting to turn down any work especially in this economy I like to remain diversified in my styles, and art forms.
Fill in the blank: The future of animation is _________.
Only going to get better, faster and more fluid.
What are the best and worst aspects about working in the animation field?
One of the best aspects is seeing the work come to life and being able to control all aspects of it.
The worst is the length of time it takes to do it, the lack of respect in the industry for it and the money paid to do it.
Among your firm's achievements, which one(s) are you the most proud of?
I have to be honest here I have yet to achieve anything I'm fully proud of. But then again I'm my own worst critic.
What advice would you give to aspiring animators?
Doesn't matter if you are a 3d or 2d animator you should learn to draw first. Study everything that moves on it's own or by external motivation. Learn all aspects of animation, not just your percieved job title, or your place on the conveyor belt. Don't expect to do projects you will enjoy at first. If you do enjoy it then count it a blessing.
Most important: Do your own art as much as possible!
What were your most challenging projects, and why?
I think the Auto Industry Commercials I did were pretty challenging. I received the project from Clear Channel Communications and I had to take it from another animator who had already set up the characters and animations ahead of time. The animated movements were not very good and the look was very amateurish at best. It was all done in Flash and the client already approved it. So it had to remain the same as is. I had to do 3 new stories and all in the same look and feel.I think that was my most challenging thing was not to do it my way, or the way I wanted to. Sometimes we don't get a choice when it is a job and it is paying the bills.
What kind of education did it take to get you where you are today?
I am self-educated from both on the job training and self-teaching. I think if you have the will and the want you can pretty much do anything without higher schooling. Although at times I wish I had a better education in certain processes.
What animation software packages does your firm prefer to use? Which one would you recommend to beginners?
I currently use Flash CS5 for 2d and Maxon Cinema 4DXL for 3d. I would recommend both for beginners as well.
Could you share with us your best story about working in the animation industry.
I think my best story was my first animation job. I had the pleasure to work for Frank Gladstone in his early career when he owned Frank Gladstone's Persistence of Vision. Now He is a major in the industry. I think he is currently the Vice President of Production at IDT/Starz Feature Animation and the Head of Artistic Development at DreamWorks as well as the Producer at Warner Bros. Feature Animation. Anyway he hired me back in the early 90s to work for his small firm in Miami, Florida. He was my first actual 2d animation job.I learned so much from that guy in the small amount of time I worked for him that he became my biggest influence in the field. I'm not talking styles as much as his animation know-how and how he treated people. Just a great guy and an awesome boss! A huge amount of patience. Anyway I came in for an interview and he had me do a quick in-between animation test back on an old pencil test video machine. I completed the test and thought I did a pretty good job, but I never heard from him. So one day I get the nerve to call his office and he's like I have been trying to reach you, he wanted to hire me after testing many other artists for the position. I was so excited the day of the test I superimposed my phone numbers and gave him the wrong number. At the time I was painting houses and not doing a very good job of it, so I was elated to hear I got the job. He really changed my life at that time. Back then I really didn't know anything about animation, just what I learned by watching Disney and Warner Brothers films and practicing on flip books. Frank gave me basically 3 separate character motions in the test that I needed to fill in the in-between art for by drawing the motions out between point "A" and point "C", well I didn't know I only needed to do one motion per in-between.Instead I like did 3 motions per in-between. I guess I was an over-achiever, LOL!
Do you think that there is an increasing or decreasing demand for animators overall? Why?
In today's industry I see a high demand on specialty animation positions for "conveyor belt animation" and not an over all need for a full on animator/designer. I personally do everything from character design and creation to animation, coloring, cell painting, color story, lip sync and environmental and background design both 2d and 3d. Now-a-days you just need to be good at one of those to get a pretty good job, but I say learn it all and you can get more jobs and better jobs. Or at least get a job you enjoy doing. Be diverse and open-minded.
Check out more interviews at The Animation Career Review Interview Series.