Question & Artist With Aaron Blaise

How does one become an animator, and what about 2D animation?
This is my first entry for the Question & Artist series!
If you don’t remember what that is, I’m more than glad to refresh your memory.
A little while ago, I decided to start a page on this site, where anyone interested in a specific industry within the arts can send their questions along. From there, I’d connect with a professional in that field, and we could then present the Q&A here on LaParadiddle. So, maybe you want to get used to informational interviews. Or perhaps you’re a prospective student and aren’t sure what to major in, though you want to stay connected to your art, whether it be music, visual arts, or theater. Maybe you’re just a curious cat! If anything, Question & Artist should serve as a way for the artist community to help others. I think we tend to feel a little stuck in arts oriented industries, and it can start to feel even more competitive, due to saturation in the market.
My first submission comes from a student who is not currently studying animation, but is curious about it. She is a 2D animation lover, but would like to remain anonymous for her Q&A submission.
She says, “I watch online critics catered to animated films. I listen to songs and think of how I would storyboard it. I just love to read up new for animated films that won’t be out for years, if ever […] one thing that leaves me immensely dejected is the lack of presence of hand-drawn animation. Perhaps in Europe and Asia the absence is nonexistent, but in the U.S., studios see the hand-drawn medium as a crutch. I really feel saddened by this mentality, because hand-drawn has just as much artistic potential as does CG.
Year after year, I keep getting built up inspiration from professional animators who similarly do not wish to see hand-drawn go away. To name a few:
– Andreas Deja is working on an independent animated film called “Muska”
– Glenn Keane recently did a beautiful short called “Duet”
– James Lopex is fundraising on Indie Gogo to make a hand-drawn short called “Hullabaloo”
– Aaron Blaise & Chuck Williams recently funded and are now working on a hand-drawn film called “Art Story
I would love to hear from someone who animates stories outside the “common” animation studios. They do not necessarily have to be the aforementioned animators (although that would be incredible), but just anyone who is familiar with and is a lover of storytelling and hand-drawn animation and is pursing it on a freelance or independent scale.”
I am excited to say that Aaron Blaise was kind enough to answer questions for this first entry in the Question & Artist series. You may recognize his work from Pocahontas, Aladdin, The Lion King, Beauty and the Beast, and Rescuers Down Under! Mr. Blaise’s answers are below, and my comments are added in italics.
Photo courtesy of Aaron Blaise's Creature Art Teacher website.

Photo courtesy of Aaron Blaise’s Creature Art Teacher website.

How should one interested in hand-drawn animation look at their college career and college major? As a building block to the interest they have, or as a practical back-up plan in case hand-drawn animation is not viable?
I highly recommend a degree in animation. There several great animation schools out there. Ringling, Savannah College of Art, Cal. Arts. A job in hand drawn animation is becoming more and more hard to come by with most of the work being done in commercials or television animation. Nobody is really doing any full hand drawn Disney style animation anymore from a feature standpoint. I recommend getting a degree in computer animation. You will learn the same principals as hand drawn and will come out of school with many more options available to you.
Is New York City a good place to make independent animation, or is better to move elsewhere?
To be honest, I don’t really know the best place to do independent animation. With technology the way it is now, I would imagine you could make it anywhere you like.

Are there ways to make independent animated content less financially risky?
Really there are only two ways to make animation less financially risky.
1. Make the story as good as it can possibly be! It needs to be entertaining or no one will want to see it!
2. Cut back on production costs. Find ways of producing the product that will cost less. Think about the style, the number of shots, the number of back grounds that can be reused, the character count…the list goes on. All of these, and more, contribute to how expensive or inexpensive a film is.

How does one get suitable voice actors to participate in an animated project? Do the circumstances change if the project in question is going to be an online animated series of shorts, or an animated web series, or an independent animated film?
I come from the big studio world where we use casting directors to help us find the voice talent and then go they go on to help make the deal with the actors. For something independent you might want to find up and comers or friends with good acting skills to cover that ground. You will not get an “A” lister to participate.
Farah: From a personal perspective, I know many who do voice over work or hire for voice over work, and use their own networks, casting agencies, or even online voice acting libraries to find talent. Whenever I’d had to cast for voice over, we went through finding talent online or through our own network.

Similar to the above, how do the music compositions get handled?
Music is handled the same as above in the big studio world. We have a music executive that helps us find the artist we want and then that person goes on to make the deal. I worked with Phil Collins and Tina Turner on “Brother Bear”. That is how their deals were made. The same advice applies to smaller independent productions as above. Also scour the internet…there are a lot of composers fresh out of school that are itching to do something like that. I get contacted all the time by these people.

How can other animators willing to do independent work be found?
It comes down to money. Quality animators will not work for free. If you have a budget you can use social media quite well to find potential candidates. If you don’t have a budget, look to the school that you attend to find the talent.
How can artistic ownership be protected when doing independent projects?
Farah: Non-disclosure agreements, or NDAs, are often used on features.
I work a lot with the Artists Rights Society at my full time job, and they have a lot of information on artist copyright here. Your artistic ownership may depend on your work for hire agreement. If you’ve created your own artwork for your own project, and somebody wants to use it in a project for profit, they really should be asking your permission. A permission agreement may include the term of the use, whether it will be print or digital, the print run, if applicable, the territory, and the fee.
Aladdin concept art, courtesy of Aaron Blaise and

Aladdin concept art, courtesy of Aaron Blaise and

You can check out more of Aaron Blaise’s work at his website, which also includes great blog posts about his animation work, as well as prints. I’m so thrilled Blaise was able to help with this…his work has been so influential to animation…and our generation, too!

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