I thought I’d start off the series of interviews with the one and only Mr. Chris Mayne! I first met Chris when I was in my second class at Animation Mentor. He was always very active on the school forums and facebook pages. When I learned he lived in Kansas (a city not typically known for a large animation industry) I was very interested to learn how he still managed to have a such an awesome career in Animation! I wrote Chris an email back then asking for tips and advice on navigating the animation industry as a remote/freelance artist and he gave me some really great information. I directly contribute this advice to my ability to land a good freelance gig shortly after finishing Animation Mentor.
I had the pleasure of working with Chris on the TV series “Yoko” for Wizart Animation. He is an amazing animator and just really fun guy to work with. He also is extremely generous with his time and effort to help others. He maintains an extensive spreadsheet with tons of Animation Industry Job Postings and keeps it up-to-date very frequently. Please, before reading the interview, check out some of his awesome work in his demo reel below!
Lets get started…
- Where are you from and how long have you been working in animation?
- I’m from Overland Park, Kansas and have been animating for a little over 8 years now.
- What made you want to become an animator / do you have a specific moment that sparked your interest in the field?
- I’ve always been interested in animation but honestly didn’t really give a lot of thought to becoming a professional animator until later in my life. I graduated from college with a marketing degree and worked various jobs for a few years that I just wasn’t happy doing. I knew a change was needed. While watching The Incredibles in the theater, that was when the heavens parted, choirs were singing, and it just hit me that I could be doing THAT for a living.
- Are you self-taught or did you get some type of formal education / training?
- My adventure in learning how to animate started at the Academy of Art but continued through Animation Mentor, where I was part of the 7th graduating class.
- Have you always worked remotely/freelance or have you worked “in-house” jobs as well? If so which studios?
- I actually started my career at a studio in Kansas City. It was the only time I’ve worked in-house. That studio is no longer operating, and I’ve been animating remotely for 7 years now.
- Can you describe your typical work day as a remote freelancer? If you worked in a studio setting before how does it differ compared to working remotely? Are there things you like better about working remotely and vice versa?
- I would say what I like the most about animating remotely is I feel I have a lot of flexibility in my schedule. I’ll split my time between the day and night to finish up my work if needed. Most studios really don’t mind when I’m animating as long as I get my stuff done. There are times I miss getting to work side by side with other artists though. While I utilize things like Skype or Google Hangouts to chat, it’s just not quite the same as face-to-face interaction.
- Do you keep a regular set of hours?
- Not necessarily. Ideally I prefer to get all my animating done during the day; however, like I mentioned earlier, it’s the flexibility I enjoy in my schedule.
- I have noticed the industry often has a bit of a seasonal tendency at times, with more jobs during certain times of the year and less at other times. Do you have advice for things to do during those slow periods of the year?
- Take a vacation!!! Recharge your batteries. After that, you could do some personal animation tests. I’ll also try to do some additional networking and reach out to studios to see if I can nail down some future projects to work on.
- In your experience working remotely, what is the most common method of interacting with the client? Do many studios utilize some form of pipeline tool like Shotgun?
- Email is still the main method of communication for me although I have used Skype and/or Google Hangouts a little more often. I haven’t been involved on too many projects that use something like Shotgun; however, there have been a few. I’m seeing more and more job listings stating a desire for candidates to be familiar with Shotgun, Perforce, etc.
- How did you break into the freelance market, specifically remote work? It can be tricky for new comers trying to get that first gig, do you have any advice?
- My first remote gig came courtesy of a former mentor I had in school. I stayed in touch with him after graduating and when my stint at the Kansas City studio came to an end, I made sure to contact him again to see if he maybe had any projects he needed help with. While he didn’t have one at the time, he did have a lead on another job with a friend of his. Thankfully it worked out to where I got to be a part of that project, and ever since then I’ve been working from home. I’ve found the most important thing through my years of freelancing is definitely networking and then staying in touch with who you connect with. Stay on their radar so when they have a project (or know of one) needing extra help, your name is at or near the top of their list of who to contact.
- I have found scheduling jobs can be tricky at times, sometimes deadlines are extended or project start dates get pushed around making it difficult to always plan. How do you handle this? Do you ever double up on projects?
- Oh yeah, I’ve totally doubled up on projects and have even worked three at a time before. You need to know what you’re capable of doing. I hate turning down work and have definitely had my ass kicked a few times because I just couldn’t say “no”. Be smart with your planning/scheduling. If you don’t feel like you can take on additional work, don’t force it. You may likely end up putting out crap animation and then the studio won’t want to work with you again.
- What advice do you have to upcoming animators and students who want to work in the industry but maybe cannot get into a physical studio right away?
- Be proactive with creating a great reel. Talk to other artists and get their eyes on your work. Do lots and lots of networking. Talk to studios. Start getting your name out there. You may snag some remote work in the process.
- Have you done any freelancing/remote work in the games industry? If so, how has that work differed from the more “film/tv” based side of things?
- The only thing I’ve done for game studios is work on some promotional videos/trailers. I can’t say that was really any different, but it has afforded me the opportunity to work on some extremely fun characters.
- Do you have any other skill sets that you use, like modeling, rigging, lighting, stop-motion? Has having more of a broad range of skills provided more opportunities for you?
- I’ve only done animation in my career. When I first started learning animation, I did do a little modeling and rigging; however, that definitely wasn’t for me. It’s actually pretty scary to look at what I did. I’m going to go curl in to a ball in the corner of a room and cry a bit now that I’m thinking about that….I will say I have missed out on some jobs that required other skill sets so it can be advantageous to be able to do more than one thing.
- Part of doing freelance work is having to learn some minor business skills. Do you have any advice for learning the business side of being a freelancer? Do you have any tips or good resources you would recommend on topics such as quoting, invoicing, taxes, contracts?
- I wish I had someone to handle the business side of things. It’s actually what I least like about all of this. I typically get contracts from the studios so there’s no need to make my own. Make sure you’re reading them though. Don’t just blindly sign your name. If you have questions, ask them. On a couple contracts I’ve been able to get some things added, reworded, or removed. When it comes to invoicing, make sure you put an actual invoice number on it. It seems trivial, but studios will appreciate it. I also try to put descriptive information on the invoice for services I performed, such as what project I was working on, dates I worked, etc. For taxes, I can only speak in regards to U.S. taxes. But keep track of everything, whether it’s paying for cloud storage, upgrading your computer, etc. Working at home, you can also deduct a portion of some of your bills, such as utilities.
- What are your thoughts on the growth of remote workers in the animation industry? Do you think it will become more common as years go on and the technology continues to improve?
- I’m not surprised about the growth. For some, hopping around from state to state or country to country totally works for them. For others, it’s just not feasible for various reasons. The technology is already there though. More studios could utilize remote workers if they wanted to. I don’t know that it will ever be the norm, but I do at least stay encouraged that there has been an uptick in the number of studios willing to work with remote artists.
- Do you have any favorite projects that you have worked on?
- Definitely! The very first TV spot I ever worked on was for Lucky Charms cereal. That one will always hold a special place in my heart. I got to work on quite a few Lucky Charms commercials after that and thoroughly enjoyed each one of them. I also did some animation on promotional videos for Lego Dimensions that I absolutely loved. Coincidentally my kids got a huge kick out of that as they would sometimes watch me working on it. Animating Batman, Gandalf, and Wyldstyle was such a blast. There are so many other projects I could easily name here, but for the sake of time and sanity of anyone reading this I’ll just leave it at those.
- Any last bits of advice, words of wisdom or anything you definitely want to mention before I let you go?
- I love animating, but it has definitely been a difficult journey. You can’t get discouraged during the rough times. We all go through them, but we have such a supportive community. Take advantage of it. I’ve made so many friends in the industry and could never thank them enough for all the help they’ve given over the years.
Thanks so much for your time Chris!
If you would like to learn more about Chris, or contact him for work below is a link to his IMDB page and his linked-in account.