We wanted to help you get to know Jeremy and Tim so we sat down to chat about their favorite animated movies, their teaching styles, and why they love animation. Enjoy!
Animation Mentor: Starting with the most important question, what made each of you fall in love with animation? Tell us a little bit about your journeys!
Jeremy Lazare: I originally studied as a fine artist and found myself torn between painting and film/video. It never occurred to me that the two could be combined and it wasn’t until years later when I happened to help out a friend (making coffee) at an animation studio that I saw people animating. Immediately a light bulb went off…I could make 24 “paintings” a second and then watch them as a film!
Tim Ingersoll: I was 14 years old when Disney’s Illusion of Life was published. I devoured that book. I was a scrawny teenager living in the middle of nowhere Indiana. I decided to write Walt Disney studios a letter. Snail mail. I simply asked how I could become an animator…and would it be possible to get a tour of the studio?
Well I assumed that I would never hear back, but I still ran to my mailbox every afternoon. One day I saw an envelope with a picture of Mickey Mouse in the corner. I was invited to the studio. I almost peed my pants. Now I had to figure out how to get halfway across America with no money. My grandparents were taking a voyage in their beat up Pontiac that summer. They said I could come with. That moment changed my life…FOREVER! I never looked back.
AM: Tell us about some of your favorite characters you’ve worked on and why they stand out to you.
Jeremy: One of my favorite characters to animate would have to be Dracula from Hotel Transylvania. He was so over the top and the director, Gendy Tartakovsky, challenged us to try to push the character TOO far. None of us succeeded. It was also very satisfying to animate Sid in the most recent Ice Age film. The original Ice Age blew me away when it came out at the start of my career, so to animate my favorite character from that film 14 years later felt like I’d ticked off something on my bucket list.
Tim: 3 characters stand out for me. Chel from The Road to El Dorado. She was smart, sexy, and it was challenging to make her vulnerable yet cunning. Ariel from The Little Mermaid because she was just so sparkling to draw. Every frame I knew this movie was going to be a blockbuster. Skipper from Madagascar. He is everyone’s alter ego. He just jumps off the screen. Plus I know the voice actor, Tom McGrath. He is the director and a friend of mine.
AM: What’s the most challenging shot you’ve ever worked on and what did you learn from it?
Jeremy: The shot I remember as being the most challenging is from the start of my career. It was in Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, I had to animate a giant statue falling down and crumbling into pieces. It seemed simple enough when I started, but because the character was stumbling I had to break all the rules I had learned about weight and balance in order to make him feel as if he was off balance and falling. I guess I learned that all rules have exceptions.
Tim: It was a shot from Cats Don’t Dance, and it had over 20 characters dancing around. I had to create a flow and Treat all the characters as they were one unit! I learned that all animation must have simplicity to read.
AM: Jeremy, it seems like your career has a great variety of live action and fully animated films. Can you tell us a little bit about the unique challenges/rewards of working in each?
Jeremy: This is something I’ve thought about a lot over the years. For me I have always felt that Visual Effects/Live Action requires a complete mastery of animation mechanics, since your animation will be compared for realism against any real-world actors that are also in the shot or sequence you are working on. The finished work that you come away with is usually of an extremely high standard.
The flip side is that in fully animated films you are far more focused on which choices to make and on making your animation as entertaining as possible—with a lot more direct interaction with the director. Both have their benefits and have their place in an animator’s tool box!
AM: Tim, can you tell us a little bit about making the transition from 2D to 3D?
Tim: DreamWorks was moving away from 2D after Sinbad tanked. They asked all 80+ artists if they wanted to learn CG. We took a test. 16 were accepted, and out of that… 8 were picked out of 80. I was lucky!
I must say I feel knowing 2D really helps me to plan better. As a 2D artist you were forced to consider silhouette and clarity. The curse of 3D is everything is on model, and you can be fooled into thinking that a pose is good when in fact it could be better or pushed more!
AM: Who were your own mentors? What’s the most valuable part of having a mentor in animation?
Jeremy: In ancient times when I studied animation the internet did not exist like it does today, and I had to physically go to my mentor’s studio to get feedback on my work. I was very lucky to have two great mentors. Michael Dudok De Wit taught me the bouncing ball. If you aren’t familiar with his work he recently directed The Red Turtle with Studio Ghibli. My other mentor was Marc Craste, and he often drew over my work and made it much better.
The great thing about having these two guys as my mentors was seeing how fluent they had become with the principles I was learning in class. They made it look so effortless and easy and pushed me to get to that level.
Tim: I am SO lucky. I had James Baxter and Andreas Deja and Dale Baer…as my mentors. They are still legends at Disney and DreamWorks. They showed me that you need to put your ego aside, be vulnerable, ask questions, and ask for feedback—and to let others help you! I am AMAZED at how generous all of them were with their talent and time!
AM: What’s your own mentoring style like? What should students expect in joining your class?
Jeremy: My style? I guess I like to encourage students to make choices they feel passionate about. I see myself as a resource to get to the best possible version. What should students expect? A supportive environment. For me learning is all about asking questions and making mistakes, so I want students to feel comfortable doing both.
Tim: I am pretty laid back but also very passionate! I know what it takes to get hired at the big studios. I strive to make sure students “get it,” as animation can be overwhelming. Also, I try to de-mystify it in my mentoring. If you can somewhat simplify the process it will make you that much stronger! I give my students the real skills to get better quickly.
AM: What’s one piece of advice you’d each like every animation student to know?
Jeremy: If you ever feel that animation is hard OR that when you look at your own work you can’t tell if it’s good or bad…don’t worry, that’s normal. This feeling is something that everyone I’ve ever worked with feels. The good news is when you look back over the years, you will see that your work has been silently getting better and better, and the real problem is keeping perspective on something that you’ve been staring at for days on end.
Tim: Strong poses and rhythm. Period. And work hard really hard. You are living your dream! Two of my very good friends, Sean Sexton and Steve Hickner, are both big shots at DreamWorks. Why? Because they outwork everyone. They are insanely talented, nice, smart, and FUNNY. Learn from animators like that!
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