Interview with Chris Mayne – Freelance Animator

Chris Mayne Banner

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.

IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm5284095/
LinkedIn:
 https://www.linkedin.com/in/chrismayneanimation/

The blog is back.. and with a vengeance!

It has returned!

Actually, I just finally came up with some good (maybe?) ideas of things to write about and also help keep me creative and accountable to the craft of animation! It’s been quite some time since this blog had some new content and I hope the new stuff will be interesting to those of you who read it! I had a lot of fun actively writing throughout my whole progress at Animation Mentor. Once AM came to an end and I got into the grind of working and of course just life in general, the blog started to get pushed to the way side. Which, isn’t necessarily a bad thing, because I did a whole heck of a lot of animating since I last posted and have learned a great deal!

I also had a lot of big life milestones happen since the last updates! Mainly, I finally married my beautiful wife, and we moved from our beach life in Panama City Beach, FL back up to the big city and my hometown of Chicago, IL. My wife got a great job opportunity to work up here and we made the long move up! I sure miss the sunshine and our great friends in Florida, but its nice to be back in familiar territory and have the big city available. Also.. a big city with a pretty decent animation industry!

New content coming your way soon!

As I said, I finally came up with quite a good list of things I want to do on this blog. So, I thought I’d give you a preview of what’s down the pipeline and coming to your beautiful browsers soon.

Interviews with Freelance Animators & Remote Animators
I always wished there was more content when I was starting out freelancing and working remotely, on how the animation industry worked from that perspective. There is no shortage of amazing articles and videos of animators working in-house at the big studios like Disney, Pixar etc. However, the animation industry is a large one and there are TONS of amazingly talented animators who work freelance and remotely all over the world. I’ve had the pleasure of working with quite a few of them and have decided to start interviewing them to show people how the industry is from our perspective. The first of these interviews will be posted quite soon!

Shot Breakdowns
I’ve finally been able to get a hold of some of the finished professional work I’ve done on feature films and TV series, and I’ll be making a series of short breakdown videos to show how the progress of a shot looks from start to finish! I always found it fun to watch these videos and they can be very eye-opening and educational.

New Reel
I am slowly putting together a new demo reel with my latest work and hopefully should have that launched soon enough, you’ll have to wait and see!

New Articles! – I plan to write some new multi-part blog posts that explain a variety of topics. Especially things I always wanted to read more about when I was first getting into the industry. Now that I have a few years of experience under my belt, I felt I could expand on some of the things I have learned. Topics such as: TV Animation versus Feature Films, Workflow Changes, Using reference for quick animation, and much more!

Anyway! It feels good to get back to this, I have a lot more content coming very soon and just wanted to make a post and let everyone know this blog is coming back, and I hope that you guys will stick around and enjoy the new content!

New shots and updates!

Well, it has been a little while since I’ve posted some new work so I thought I better get around to sharing what I’ve been up to! I’ve been dedicating some of my free time from animating for work to continue to animate on some personal tests. The type of animation I do for work is a much different style than that typically found at the feature film level of animation. While still very fun and challenging, I want to be as well rounded as animator as I can be and continue to push myself in all styles. A while back, I posted up a blocking pass for a subtle acting shot I had started. I can now say that it is finally at a point that I’m going to call it done. The main purpose of this shot was to improve my subtle acting and facial performance skills. I purposely chose to use a more complex rig that would allow me for more facial articulation and enable me to get more nuance into the performance.

I learned a lot working on this shot, and have already taken the lessons I’ve learned and started applying them to another shot that I am in the early stages of blocking on. I was fortunate enough to have a good friend of mine from Purdue, Andrew Kennedy light and render my shot for me to make it a little more polished and pretty for my demo reel. Andrew is super talented and you can find more of his work at his website (www.andrewkennedy3d.com).

On another note, I was graciously asked by the Purdue SIGGRAPH Student Chapter to skype in and give a talk about my experiences so far as a professional animator and my journey from being a student to now. It was a really fun experience getting to chat to the current students there. It feels like just yesterday that I was in their same shoes, sitting in the familiar labs of Knoy Hall of Technology and listening to other alumni who have gone on to work in the industry. It was a great experience and I hope they enjoyed it as much as I did. Hopefully some day, I’ll get a chance to make it back to campus, I sure do miss it!

I think that is enough rambling for now, I’ll leave you with TWO shots. The first one is my final version of my facial acting shot and the other is a look at my first pass of blocking on my next personal shot I’ve begun working on using the super awesome “Mery” rig.

“Past Doesn’t Matter – Final”

 

“I’m Hot – First Pass Blocking”

AM Class 6 – Refining Pass

Screen Shot 2014-02-16 at 5.14.09 PM

This was another fast, yet productive week! I took my shot into the next stage – refining. I moved out of stepped keys and into splined and got to see the real power of the workflow that my mentor has me using. It was really eye-opening to see my shot in splined curves without a lot of guess work needing to be done on my part. By having the shot blocked on 4’s it really limits the computer’s ability to give you bad breakdowns and in-betweens. It still happens but, it certainly make the clean-up and refinement process a lot smoother. Based on my mentors advice, I need to exaggerate some of the posing and timing but for the most part needed to stick to my reference and focus on cleaning up the motion and curves.

As for my workflow in the cleanup/refining stage, I started with the core and center of gravity controls of the character, then worked up through to the head and out to the arms. I still have some issues with the arms that need to be worked out. It is rather difficult to get nice smooth off-set circular motion with FK arms because it requires a lot of counter-animation between the shoulder and elbows. I’m thinking switching the arms to IK this week and seeing how successful I am with it. I then also did another pass at the face and lip-sync working in more detail into the brows, eyes, and mouth. In keeping up with my workflow journaling, I also spent a total of 14 hours cleaning it up this week. I’m hoping to get pretty close to final by the end of this coming week so that I can focus on some really detailed polish work and finessing some more of my older shots.

That is all for this post, take a look and let me know what you think!
[vimeo https//vimeo.com/87437430 w=720&h=405]

 

AM Class 4: Pantomime Blocking

Week 2 has just come to an end and I have just finished my first pass of blocking on my pantomime shot. After getting some really excellent feedback and notes from my mentor during my eCritique. I managed to come up with what I think is a pretty solid start for my shot. The biggest notes I addressed from my planning and video reference were that it was too long, and I needed to shorten it even more to make it as simple and clear as possible. Joe offered some really good suggestions of ways I can simplify the shot to really make the characters internal thought process read more clearly.

First Pass Blocking:

Workflow Notes:
Throughout the week, I also paid very close attention to my workflow on this shot. As I continue to grow as an animator, I’m always trying to perfect my workflow to make myself a faster and more efficient animator. On this shot, I took the advice of one of our lectures by Dave Burgess (Head of Character Animation at DreamWorks). His method was when posing the character to really take the extra time and pose every part of the character, even in the blocking. He encouraged going into the details of the fingers, the eyes, face etc. I tried extra hard to make it so every single pose in my blocking was very clear. I didn’t worry about timing at first, I just posed the character out every 4 frames very evenly, then after I was happy with my poses, I got some feedback and tweaked them some more. Next, I went in and did a rough timing pass, where I took the poses and shifted them around on the timeline adding holds where they needed to be. Then I sought more feedback and continued to tweak away until you see what is above.

So far this workflow seemed to work really well for me in terms of getting work done faster. I was only thinking about one stage at a time, first posing, then timing, then spacing.

AM Class 1: Week 3 – Excitement & Bouncing Ball

Week 3 has already come to an end, and it surely was a busy one. The assignment this week was a combination of a couple different tasks. The first part consisted of a set of sketches conveying the emotion “Excitement”, we then had to turn one of those sketches into a 3D pose of our Stu character.

The next assignment was to animate a bouncing ball that mimics the weight of either a basketball or soccer ball, using no squash or stretch and in a frame limit of 50-100 frames. (Side note: 24 frames = 1 second of animation for film) This was our first true animation assignment, where we got to really hammer in the principles of timing,spacing, and how to work with the graph editor.

This assignment was a lot of fun to think about and attempt, I feel like I am really starting to get a better understanding of how timing and spacing are used to create a realistic and believable animation. As part of the Ball Bounce assignment, we had to show our planning for the animation, because it is extremely important to have a clear end goal in mind for your animation before you ever sit down at the computer and try and animate. This is a habit that Animation Mentor really tries to hammer into their students, always PLAN before you Animate. This is something I used to not do very much before coming to AM, I used to kind of just hop in to Maya and animate without much of a plan except for what was in my head. AM has been really great about teaching a strong and structured workflow to make animating a shot much less confusing and manageable.

Below are my sketches for my Excitement Pose:

and here are 3 images; consisting of my original pose, my mentor’s critiques and suggestions on how to improve it, and the revised version of the pose. My inspiration for this pose came from seeing a commercial with Tiger Woods in it.

Animation Mentor - Class 1 - Week 3 Poses

Now here is my planning for my bouncing ball (I did a basketball):

And below are two videos; the first, is my original ball bounce and the second, is the revised ball bounce, fixing the very minor comments my mentor told me to address to make it more believable.

That is all for this week, but stay tuned for my next update which will cover all of the work for week 4 – Bouncing Balls with different weights!