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Interview with Jason Barnes (animator on Squids, ATHF, Archer)!

4 Aug

For this post, we have something special for you — another exclusive interview, this time with Jason Barnes, who has worked on Aqua Teen, Squidbillies, and currently works for Archer!

Animated TV Blog: Hi, Jason. When did you start out in the TV/animation industry? Who did you first work for?

Jason Barnes: I started working in television in 2008. I was still attending art school at the Art Institute of Atlanta at the time when I got an internship at Radical Axis to work on Squidbillies (season 3 or 4?) and ATHF. The internship was unpaid, but the experience was payment enough. They basically taught me how to use Adobe Flash haha. It was fantastic and stressful all at the same time. I mean, I was just a kid. All these animators had at least 5-6 years of professional work under their belts. But they let me do everything from key animation to design work for squids. It was a dream come true since Squidbillies was a HUGE inspiration for me in college. Aside from the work experience, I made some GREAT contacts that have kept me working ever since. In fact, after my 3 month internship I went back to school to finish up my last 2 quarters at AiA, then almost immediately after graduation started working on Squidbillies again.

ATB: Had you known a long time you wanted to be in the TV/animation industry? Who or what are some of your biggest inspirations?

JB: Honestly, growing up I didn’t know you could be in TV/animation without being famous. In high school, I thought you needed to be the BEST in order to work in entertainment (not really true, but it helps to strive for the best, obviously). I had just built it up in my head that if you weren’t John K from birth, you were nobody and you’d never work anywhere. Haha. But the way I “found out” I could be in animation was talking to my mom one day (I had recently graduated high school) She straight up just told me “go to art school. You suck at business and can’t be a doctor, but you LOVE to draw. So. Do it.” And literally within a week I was applying to art school. haha.

…Which I guess leads to the next question… John K’s Ren & Stimpy molded my little child brain growing up. It was the craziest thing I had ever seen on television. I would draw the characters constantly. That show remained a huge influence on me throughout college as well. Then I discovered Adult Swim and that became my bible. Haha. ATHF and Squidbillies actually still inspire me to this day. But now, there’s a TON of things I see online and on television that inspire me. A Rick and Morty screener is currently sitting on my desk waiting to be rewatched. Comedy Central’s TripTank is my new jam. It’s a great format for animation. Pretty much a different style every 2-3 minutes haha, so I never get bored. Plus it’s all submission based content so indie animators can get stuff on air without too much producer interference. A lot of live-action stuff inspires me too. Trailer Park Boys, Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, True Detective, and Fargo are very inspiring to watch, even though I’m no filmmaker. They’ll get me jazzed about certain color choices or shot layouts, hell even character design. Pretty sure Walter White or Ricky from Trailer Park Boys has made it into at least ONE character line-up I’ve done for a studio.

ATB: Not much is known to the public about Radical Axis (animation company), even though they animated two of our (and many other folks’) favorite cartoons, Aqua Teen and Squidbillies. What was it like working for them? Were there good perks to the job?

JB: Radical was great. They gave me the contacts and experience I needed to get comfortable with the industry. They were small and pretty laid back compared to the larger studios out West, and it was the perfect environment for young, budding artists to learn to perform pretty much any task in the animation pipeline. For most of my time there, the crew was only about 12-15 people; usually 4-5 animators, 2-4 compositors, an editor, and a few producers. At one point, there were a little over 100 people working there when Archer (Floyd County Productions) was just starting production on season 1 and needed studio space (So they merged with Radical for a season). It was kinda nuts, Suddenly we were filled to the brim with brilliant artists working on a show that we had NO idea was going to be so successful, let alone EMMY-NOMINATED one day. Haha. As far as job perks go, I got to work with my best friends all day. Pretty perky if you ask me. But yeah, we’d get lots of Adult Swim swag all the time, anything from Early Cuyler trucker hats with “Breathe If You’re Horny” on ’em to Meatwad beanbag chairs. We’d also get movie screening passes occasionally, and once we even got free passes to Dragon Con which was AWESOME. But I digress. Radical eventually dissolved, and people scattered around the country. Awesome Incorporated took over Squids and ATHF almost immediately. Luckily, some animators transferred over to help out.

ATB: You work for Archer today — how does working there differ from working at Radical Axis? For example, what were/are the production times/deadlines for different shows, ATHF, Squidbillies, Archer etc — how does that work?

JB: Well, Archer is kinda insane compared to Squidbillies. You’re talking a 6 artist crew for Squids and an 80+ artist crew for Archer. The switch was overwhelming. The biggest difference between the two is expectation. Archer requires a level of artistry unparalleled in the industry, while Squids is a beautifully loose and dirty show. I wish there was a happy medium between the two, but I’ve yet to find it. Another thing that separates the two shows is obviously budget; Archer can afford to draw out an episode’s production to as long as a couple months, while Squids is pretty much done in 4-5 weeks, for as cheap as possible.

ATB: I see on your IMDb entry (http://www.imdb.com/name/nm3439363) that you even worked on an episode of Unsupervised! – another great show – and Out There, which I haven’t even had a chance to see yet. I also know you have a pretty excellent tumblr (thebarnes.tumblr.com) with some great images of your art — do you have a demo reel of your animation available online anywhere?

JB: Haha- IMDB is a little outdated, currently it’s only about 50% of the work I’ve done. I actually worked on all 13 of Unsupervised (RIP) and about half of Out There. Both shows were so much fun to work on. An absolute shame they didn’t make it to second seasons. Unsupervised was expected to not make it; just clashed too hard with FX’s line-up. But Out There was a perfect show; funny, smart, and visually engaging there’s no reason it shouldn’t have been renewed. It was the perfect animated flagship for IFC. The way she goes, I guess…

As far as a CURRENT demo reel… I do not have one. BUT you can find my old college stuff and some shitty internship work from Radical Axis over at TheBarnesVault.com haha. My tumblr is the best way to follow my current work.

ATB: Wow, I agree on Unsupervised being extremely underrated. Do you watch cartoons now, or maybe you have for years..? This may be similar to your answer in the second question above, but what are some of your favorite cartoons?

JB: I’m constantly watching new cartoons, mainly animator’s personal projects on youtube or vimeo. See above. Haha.

ATB: Any advice for aspiring animators?

JB: First off, get comfortable and connected with your creativity. Sit with a stack of post-it notes and just draw if you’re not comfortable with your own style yet. I find the post-it note format keeps things fast, simple, and small; there’s little room for details and overwhelming pressure (especially if you doodle with a Sharpie, that’s my fav). Another thing that’s helped me get comfortable and connected with my creativity over the years is “There are no rules, just tools.” At least when it comes to my own work, I constantly remind myself that there is no one watching over my shoulder telling me how things should look. It calms me down (I’m kind of an anxious person in that respect haha). If there’s one thing I’ve learned about art, it’s that you’ve gotta stay loose and relaxed. Otherwise you tighten up and your work gets strangled and stiff. Feel the flow, as they say. You also gotta FEED the flow, too! Get a tumblr account and start following artists, and then follow the artists that those artists follow/reblog. That’s the quickest way to get connected with other artists and stay fresh on current trends and techniques. Not to mention it’s an endless feed of inspiration. Some truly brilliant artists floating out there in the blogosphere that you won’t find in any production art book or art history book unfortunately.

ATB: We want to thank Jason for doing this interview, and for imparting such great advice to our readers! Thanks again, Jason!

 

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Exclusive Interview : Chris Prynoski from Titmouse Inc.

5 Jun

Chris Prynoski of Titmouse

Here is an interview I did with Chris Prynoski (CP) of Titmouse Studios (Metalocalypse, Superjail, Freaknik, etc). My questions are preceded by “ATVS“.

ATVS: Hi Chris!

Firstly, thanks so much for agreeing to do this interview! I’m truly honored, as I’ve been a huge fan of what your studio has released (Metalocalypse, Freaknik, etc.)

I read that you worked in New York and at MTV with Daria and other shows right after college, and that you’ve always doodled in classes. Have you always had a passion for animation/cartoons/art, even when very young?

CP: Yep. I love cartoons. I think the doodling in classes and whatnot is common to every single person I’ve worked with in animation. There are so many post it sketches after every meeting we have at Titmouse, I don’t know what to do with them. Sometimes I fight the post its with my bare fists. Sometimes I have to use lasers.

I did work in New York after I graduated in the mid-nineties. Mostly at MTV. I started on Beavis and Butt-Head during the 4th season in the storyboard department, and eventually directed the hallucination sequence in Beavis and Butt-Head do America. I also worked on 2 season of The Head and directed on the first season of Daria. I created a show called Downtown and moved to LA after the first season was finished. It took me a year before I realized I lived in LA and wasn’t just on vacation.

ATVS: How and when was Titmouse started?

CP: I was directing cartoons for Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network and I thought it would be fun to start a t-shirt company on the side. My wife Shannon and I started a company, made some shirts, and set up a website to sell them. Titmouse sounded like a good, stupid name for a t-shirt shop.

When I got freelance gig doing the animation for the movie Freddy Got Fingered, they asked me the name of my production company. I said a was just a dude. They said they couldn’t hire a dude, so I showed them the paperwork for Titmouse and it checked out. After that we ran all my freelance through that company and we eventually grew into a real animation studio. We now have over 200 employees making cartoons! Besides forcing me to start an animation studio, the best thing that happened to me on that movie was Rip Torn jamming my drawings up his asshole. True story!

ATVS: From the Titmouse portfolio, it looks like you do a pretty good mix of commercial work, music videos, and the TV shows too. What are the main shows/projects that are currently being produced?

CP: Right now we’re in production on seven TV series, a bunch of pilots, some video game content, commercials and shorts. I can’t talk about all of them. Here’s a little cross section: Metalocalypse season 4, Superjail! season 2, Venture Bros season 5. New shows include Black Dynamite and China, IL. Besides the Adult Swim stuff we are also currently in production on gigs for Disney, MTV, Sesame Street, various video game companies and we just finished a Cocoa Puffs commercial. I also just finished eating a bowl of Cocoa Puffs.

ATVS: Everything is done in-house there? Even voice-over work, etc.?

CP: It varies from show to show. We have a studio in Los Angeles and one in New York. In LA we have a full sound booth and post production facility. In New York we work with other folks. On all of our shows we do writing through animatic internally – including design, color, storyboard, etc. Then some projects we animate in house and others we ship to studios in Korea, Canada, Ireland and Nepal. Then we do editing and post. We usually do the final sound mix at an outside facility. We do most of the voice over work in LA at our studio. Tommy Blacha developed the voice for Murderface by doing a scene where he was supposed to be eating baked beans in the second episode. We all realized that was IT! THAT was the character! So we went back and re-recorded his voice in the first episode. It’s harder to do that stuff when you don’t have a booth in house.

ATVS: About how long does it take to make an TV episode, start to finish?

CP: Every show is different. It depends on the style, the budget and when the network needs it to be finished. Also, sometimes you get an order of six 11 minute episodes and sometimes you get an order of fifty two 11 minute episodes. Usually it’s somewhere between 6-9 months to produce an episode, but many are being made at the same time. The fastest season we produced was 20 half hours of DJ and the Fro for MTV. We started writing in February and had aired all 20 episodes by June. I don’t recommend that kind of schedule.

ATVS: What show is the most fun to make?

CP: They’re all fun in their own way. Recently, Freaknik and Superjail have been great because we had the freedom to go really batty with them. Adult Swim is great because they really let us go insane.

ATVS: What is your personal favorite TV show to watch that is currently on the air – cartoon or otherwise?

CP: Wow! I like a lot of shows. I play a lot of video games too. It’s tough to nail it down to a favorite. I like to watch are Adventure Time, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and I have to say I actually watch our current season of Superjail! I’m really proud of our animators for making that show so crazy you can watch it twelve times in a row and always see something new.

ATVS: What is your personal favorite TV show of ALL TIME?

CP: Man, that’s tough. Maybe Chris Elliot’s Get A Life. It has the surreal tone of a cartoon, even though it’s a live action show. It was way ahead of it’s time. Actually, my studio’s name was influenced by an episode of Get A Life. It’s the one where Chris eats toxic waste and gets really smart and starts entering spelling bees. When he is asked to spell the word “titmouse” he can’t stop giggling.

ATVS: What would you be doing if not making cartoons?

CP: I’d probably be doing wiring diagrams. In the early days, before we could afford to hire tech folks, I was the network engineer and admin at Titmouse in addition to my creative duties. I kind of dig it. Either that or a homeless guy, drawing pictures in my sketchbook for money.

ATVS: Any advice for aspiring animators/show creators?

CP: Do what YOU want to do, not what you think will sell. If you are doing what you love, it will come through on screen. That’s what separates the good shows from the great shows.

ATVS: Thanks again for taking the time, GREAT interview!

(Chris can be found on Twitter and the official Titmouse site is Titmouse.net.)

-Jake, Animated TV Shows